Top Stories

An early look at the MLS Playoff Race

RileySealy (

As we move closer to the 20-game mark in the MLS season, and the end of summer draws nearer, it's a good time to see where the MLS playoff race stands as we prepare for the stretch drive.

The Los Angeles Galaxy, Columbus Crew and Real Salt Lake all boast comfortable cushions of between 12 and 17 points between them and the San Jose Earthquakes, currently the first team on the playoff bubble, while FC Dallas, the New York Red Bulls and Seattle Sounders all currently have five to seven point cushions.

That leaves the Colorado Rapids and Toronto FC currently holding the final two playoff places, though as we learned last season, you can lose your grip on a playoff berth before you realize it.

Here is a look at the playoff picture with a third of the MLS season left to play:


1W. Los Angeles Galaxy (12-3-4)……….40 points

1E. Columbus Crew (11-4-4)……………37 pts

2W. Real Salt Lake (10-4-5)……………35 pts

3W. FC Dallas (7-2-9)………………….30 pts

2E. New York Red Bulls (8-6-4)………..28 pts

4W. Seattle Sounders (8-8-4)…………28 pts

4E. Colorado Rapids (7-5-6)…………..27 pts

3E. Toronto FC (7-6-5)………………..26 pts


San Jose Earthquakes (6-6-5)………..23 pts

Chicago Fire (5-5-6)………………….21 pts

Kansas City Wizards (5-8-5)…………20 pts

Houston Dynamo (5-9-5)…………….20 pts

New England Revolution (5-9-3)…….18 pts

Chivas USA (5-10-3)………………..18 pts

Philadelphia Union (4-10-3)………..15 pts

D.C. United (3-13-3)……………….12 pts


Current Playoff Match-ups


Columbus Crew vs. Colorado Rapids

New York Red Bulls vs. Toronto FC


Los Angeles Galaxy vs. Seattle Sounders

Real Salt Lake vs. FC Dallas


So what can we gather from this picture? Unless the Chicago Fire really turns it on in the final weeks, the Western Conference is likely to have five playoff teams yet again. In fact, San Jose is just three points behind Toronto FC and holds a game in hand, so it isn't out of the realm of possibility that we see six Western Conference playoff teams.

Right now the Seattle Sounders and FC Dallas are playing very well and both look like strong bets to lock down their Western Conference playoff spots. That means Colorado and San Jose will be competing with Toronto FC and the Chicago Fire for those remaining places.

The Fire currently sits on just 21 points, but with two games in hand on Toronto FC and newly-acquired Designated Players Freddie Ljungberg and Nery Castillo in the fold, Chicago cannot be ruled out at this point.

Truth is it's tough to truly rule out anybody but D.C. United and Philadelphia when you consider that every other team is within eight points of a playoff spot. Of those lower-level teams I'd say Houston and Chivas USA look least likely to mount a late-season charge, while New England can never be ruled out with Shalrie Joseph and Stevie Nicol around.

Team most likely to fall short? Colorado has fallen short before and may need to boost the roster to have a chance of holding on to its current playoff place.

Team most likely to grab a playoff spot? You have to like what the Chicago Fire has done with the additions of Ljungberg, Castillo and Gonzalo Segares, and if Sean Johnson can keep the rookie growing pains to a minimum and keep putting up strong performances, Chicago has no excuse not to make the playoffs.

Looking at the potential playoff match-ups, do you think the Galaxy would want to see the red-hot Sounders right now? Luckily for LA, the playoffs aren't for another three months, plenty of time for Bruce Arena's boys to recapture their early-season form. Also, if you're wondering why Colorado is listed ahead of Toronto FC but listed as the No. 4 seed in the East, it's because the 5th Western Conference team automatically becomes the No. 4 seed in the East, even if the team has a better record than the No. 3 seed.

What do you think of the current playoff picture? Which team currently not in the playoffs do you see making it? Which of the currently qualified teams can you see falling out?

Share your thoughts below.


  1. Absolutely true. Even given the current form the Sounders are in, other good teams have games in hand on them, and in MLS you can’t ever rule out a team finding a good streak late in the season, and you can’t count on current form lasting. Also consider the crazy tough schedule the Sounders have for the next two months with the Open Cup and CCL games. They’re pretty much playing two games per week through October. It’ll be amazing if they can hold together, avoid injuries, and stay on form throughout. I still see a tough road to the playoffs for the Sounders despite the good case they’ve been making lately.

  2. Thanks for the info on the fans at Revs games. Now I know why the revs dont get any Support from the “Home Crowd”. Turns out the crowd is not from NE but from the home of the visitors.

    In terms of a Balanced schedule- that will end after this year I think. Garber will keep the games per season at 30; and with the league up to 19 teams within 2 years, that means a UNBALANCE SCHEDULE in the years ahead.

    Also, the MlS will have 3 conferences starting next year most likely. They will have the West, Central, and the East. Like the Mexican league does. 18 teams and 6 teams per conference.

    Garber likes the idea of teams having Championships for winning Conferences. Americans like to win and with conferences they have more champions. So Garber is hoping for more fan support by having more Championships. It makes it easier to sell to the general public. Western Conference Championship is a easier sell than saying Semi Final.

  3. Don’t worry, the Rapids will lose to RSL in the final game of their season and miss the playoffs yet again. It seems like a consistent theme from the past couple of years…

  4. Ljundberg definitely isn’t. Ljungberg is probably a little better than Ljundberg. However, it’s generally agreed that Lumberg totally sucks.

  5. You can call us the Lactating Ovine for all I care. It will just shame our playoff opponent more. These Pink Cows are going to trample Toronto like it’s a G20 summit, piss in the Rapids, piss on the Fire to put it out, or whoever comes first. No matter the method the Pink Cows will be glorious

  6. Perhaps it’s bias, Nathan, or perhaps you’re just looking close enough to see what others don’t: the Revs have a soft schedule left, recent momentum, two strong reinforcements, and Perovic looked really good before he went down last week. (That’s my Serbian bias, though.)

  7. Simple – to create rivalries that people can actually travel to. Up here in NE, we consistently get large contingents of fans from New York and DC. We’ve gotten large groups from Toronto and Columbus as well. Can’t say that we’ve ever had even a decent size contingent from RSL, Dallas, Colorado, Chivas or LA. Sounders fans did alright last year, but that’s a heck of a trip for a game. In most of the years MLS has existed, conference opponents have had more games, which means more away ticket sales since those teams are close enough to send them. Along the way, a little history was created that will probably keep those rivalries alive.

    That said, as the league moves to twenty teams with a balanced home and away game schedule, it starts to make a lot less sense. That’s a large part of why there’s a lot more griping about it these days.

    – just my $.02

  8. Can someone give me a good reason for having Eastern and Western conferences?

    I see Kansas City and Chicago getting in instead of Colorado and Toronto.

  9. Absolutely. I don’t usually care about “this is how football is played” arguments, but I prefer home and away to one game playoffs. But again, this is the US and once the money makes it work it will be best of 3, to the insane infuriation of a certain segment.

  10. If you go by points per game– so to somewhat cancel out the game in hand questions– the order would be:

    1W LA (2.11)

    1E Columbus (1.95)

    2W RSL (1.84)

    3W Dallas (1.67)

    2E NYRB (1.56)

    4W Colorado (1.50)

    3E Toronto (1.44)

    4E Seattle (1.40)

    The next highest PPG is San Jose with 1.35, and then there’s a drop off to 1.11 (Kansas City), 1.10 (Houston, New England), 1.00 (Chivas), 0.85 (Philly), and 0.63 (DC).

    So… PPG has the same teams going to the playoffs (at this point) as straight points do, although the order of the last 3 changes. I don’t know how helpful the PPG calculations are, but I did them so thought I’d share.

  11. Yea, it’s an ever-evolving situation. Good points MensreaJim. We shall see. I think my main contention, however, is the AMOUNT of teams that get in. It just doesn’t make sense, to me, to have eight teams out of 16, get into a playoff, UNLESS you have a home-and-away series during each stage. This would help mitigate the chances of some crappy team fluking its way to the finals or shocking a favorite.

    Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy upsets. They are great. But a one-game win to advance is ridiculous. Sometimes teams have off days – I think that in order to advance, a team should at least have to EARN it, over the course of a two-leg series. Know what I mean?

  12. I will preface by saying I am a Sounders fan but this games in hand happened to us last year too and we still made the playoffs.

    If we had played Chicago already I would be worried but we haven’t!

    Games in hand only matter if your team is not dropping points and right now all these teams with games in hand to Seattle are dropping points.

    Seattle keeps winning and playing good soccer.

    Also I am sorry to tell Fire fans this but Ljundberg is not the player you all think he is. All he did Sunday is what he has done all year, flop and complain.

    I am glad he is gone El Flaco and Nkufo are working well so we will see how it all plays out but if we keep up we should get in games in hand or not.

  13. Gee, that’s a brave bet.

    I’ll go you one further:

    If any team in the league wins all their remaining games (DC included), they are a lock to make the playoffs. There, I said it.

  14. so are they still doing the top 2 teams from each conference advance plus the next best 4? With even conferences (in terms of numbers), why not just have the top 4 from each?

  15. There are a lot of problems with the NBA system, though, that MLS’s weird system doesn’t have, and the NBA has been tinkering with this constantly.

    As you know, for many years now, good teams in the West get left out while bad teams in the East get in. That is not an advantage over LA playing in the East for the playoffs, I think. Additionally, the NBA has an unbalanced schedule, which makes the strict conferences at least make some sense.

    I’m an American, I like conferences. But when you don’t have historical reasons for it (MLB, NFL) or an unbalanced schedule, I don’t think they make much sense. Of course, we could be moving to an unbalanced schedule at some point.

  16. as a ‘quakes sth i couldn’t agree w/ you more.SJ is def. going south while a few teams reloaded and are passing us by VERY quickly.nor do i want to stagger to a playoff game playing how we are. just pathetic.

  17. This system would reward more consistent play throughout the year. Plus, six teams instead of eight may allow for the inclusion of a home and away game for every, or almost every, playoff series.

  18. ‘Tis a bit strange, indeed. I’ve seen a good amount written by this before, and the best compromise I’ve seen is how the NBA does things – they preserve their conferences and divisions, but still have a “single-table” type format, where the division winners, then the next top five teams (they have three divisions in each conference) round out the eight team playoff, regardless of division.

    MLS could work similarly, whereby only the TOP team in each conference gets an automatic bid (and bye in the first round), followed by the next FOUR teams.

    This is perfect. Therefore, you actually get rewarded for winning your conference. This also lessens the gripe about a team with an extremely poor record backing into the playoffs and winning it all…! What do y’all think? I think I should be Commish, lol.

  19. The sounders are turning it around for sure; love to see the west do good, especially a team with such great support behind their team and the league; and this is coming from and LA (galaxy) fan!

  20. I agree. We are excellent & have the best fans and the best coffee. I also head that NY is going to trade ANgel, Hnery & Rafa to us for draft picks! Green River, baby!

  21. Don’t count DC out yet! We have history, pride and tradition on our side! We won three titles last century! Our best player ever had the best nmullet ever!

  22. I saw that potential matchup, and it scared me. And RSL does not just lose in Dallas, we lose badly.

    I do enjoy though hearing about playoff talk and having RSL in the top, not at the bottom fighting their way in.

  23. I HATE the conference system. Don Garber is a good commissioner, but this is the one thing I can’t stand about MLS. It makes no sense to have this system when New York can win the Western Conference in one year and Salt Lake City can win the Eastern Conference a year later.


  24. Conspiracy!!!!

    At this point, 5th best NY would get to play worst qualifier Toronto!?!?!?!?

    Geez, this system is pretty stupid.

  25. I will write this:

    IF the Sounders keet playing, the way they are playing, they are a mortal, mortgage the house to bet, playoff LOCK.

  26. Couldn’t agree more. It’s so frustrating for us Rapids fans to watch the other teams bringing in DPs. We’re never going to get anywhere in the league with laying out some cash. On a related note – why don’t we have a corporate sponsor? Does Kroenke have something against slapping a corporate logo on the jerseys?

  27. Actually, I’m with you on this one. Let’s keep it quiet and lull everyone into a false sense of security.

    Everyone please disregard my earlier post on the Wizards and go about your normal business…


  28. SBI-That is fine, and you may be proven correct. But with 4 teams with AT LEAST 2 games in hand, I think we will find Seattle sweating out to the last week or two before they clinch a spot.

    (SBI-Games in hand don’t mean much if teams can’t win games, and several of those teams just aren’t winning games. I’d bet good money on Seattle having clinched a spot with a week or two to spare. And for the record, I didn’t say Seattle was a lock, I wrote they’re a strong bet. There’s a difference.)

  29. I still have the sounds of Qwest ringing in my ears right now so I am obviously not impartial but, after the way the Sounders are playing over the last ten games, it is hard not to see them getting into the playoffs. However, there are A LOT of games, both league and otherwise, to play. Too early to start booking a playoff spot, especially with so many games in hand for the other sides.

  30. No need to consider my KC Wizards a threat. I’d much rather quietly build on our 4-match points streak and sneak up on everyone with a legit shot to make it with 2 matches remaining.

  31. Another (probably worthless) homerism tidbit here about possible matchups: RSL has 0 points in franchise history at the indominatable fortress that is Pizza Hut Park. Who says you need fans to have a home field advantage?

  32. I’ll agree. I’m confident we’re gonna get a playoff spot based on the team’s form and the strength of the remaining schedule, but it’s not locked down yet.

    (SBI-I wrote “A strong bet to lock down a playoff spot.” Not sure how that means Seattle has already locked down a playoff spot.)

  33. I’m going to be a homer too and tell you not to count out Kansas City (who I didn’t see mentioned at all) just yet. They have not lost in their last five games (3 wins, 2 draws in 4 MLS fixtures and the ManU friendly), and have only conceded 3 goals in that same 5 game stretch.

    I really feel like they are hitting their stride, and have put the terrible stretch of play from earlier in this season (which dug them a huge hole to get out of) behind them.

  34. I understand these analyses have to start somewhere, but clearly more time should be paid to games in hand. Assuming the records listed are correct, and I have no reason to believe they are not, then Colorado and Toronto have 2 games in hand on Seattle, San Jose has 3 games in hand on Seattle and Chicago has 4 games in hand on Seattle.

    I don’t know how you can say Seattle is close to locking down a playoff spot. Considering how close everyone is, you can’t say that until the schedule evens out.

    (SBI-Jason, nobody is a mathematical lock at this point if you want to get technical, but based on Seattle’s stellar form and roster additions I don’t think it’s a reach to say they’re a safe bet to make the playoffs. All you need to do is look at form and know that right now Seattle’s playing a notch above every team you mentioned. And who said games in hand were ignored? That’s a large part of the reason I have Chicago pulling into a playoff spot.)

  35. First down year since coming to Houston for the Dynamo. Tough to sit through but hopefully Kinnear makes some changes. Personally, I hope they do not lean on the injury crutch. Teams have figured them out and they need to make some changes.

  36. I can see Chicago turning it on, now with Freddy and Castillo in the mix. As for San Jose, they are missing some players. I watched their last couple of games. There seems to be no connection between their backline and their forwards. They can’t seem to maintain possession. Unless they improve, I doubt they will make it to the playoffs.

  37. Perhaps I’m biased, but given the Revs recent run of form and two offensive signings, as well as a fairly weak schedule through the month of August, it’s not entirely out of the question to see New England back in the picture down the stretch. Now this is all dependent upon health, as Perovic and Alston are the latest casualties, but if the reserves continue to better themselves and someone manages to stay hot offensively, there’s no reason this team can’t be fighting for that last spot.


Leave a Comment