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A closer look at the MLS Playoff Race

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Four teams. One playoff spot.

That is where the 2011 MLS playoff race stands as we enter the final week of the regular season. Nine playoff berths have been clinched, and while there is still plenty to be figured out as far as match-ups and final places, the real drama will be the race to see who will be the last team to squeeze into the playoffs.

The New York Red Bulls had a chance to lock up that final playoff spot, but watched as a Thierry Henry red card spoiled those chances in a 2-0 loss to Sporting Kansas City. That defeat has kept the door open for the Portland Timbers, D.C. United and Chicago Fire, with Wednesday's match between Portland and D.C. United serving as a veritable elimination game, with the loser knocked out of the playoff race (a Portland win vs. D.C. would also eliminate Chicago from the playoff race).

There is plenty for other teams to play for as well. In the East, you have four teams who all have a chance of winning the regular season conference title. Sporting KC and Philadelphia are currently tied for first (with Sporting KC currently holding the slimmest of tie-breaker edges) while Columbus is just one point back.

Out West, Real Salt Lake can clinch the No. 3 spot in the conference standings with a win or FC Dallas loss, but the consolation prize for whichever of those teams finishes fourth is a likely path through the weaker Eastern Conference come playoff time.

Here is a look at the current MLS Playoff Standings heading into the final week of the season:



1. Sporting KC……..48 pts……33 games…… D.C.

2. Philadelphia…….48 pts……33 games…… NYRB

3. Columbus……….47 pts……33 games……. at Chicago


1. LA Galaxy………67pts……33 games……. at HOU

2. Seattle…………60 pts……33 games……. at Chivas USA

3. Real Salt Lake….52 pts……33 games……. vs. Portland


1. FC Dallas……….52 pts……33 games……. at SJ

2. Colorado………..46 pts……33 games……. at VAN 

3. Houston…………46 pts……33 games……. vs. LA

4. NY Red Bulls…….43 pts……33 games……. vs Philly


5. Portland……….40 pts……..32 games…… D.C. United, at RSL

6. Chicago……….40 pts……..33 games……. vs. Columbus

6. D.C. United……38 pts……..31 games……..vs. Portland, vs. SKC


Current Projected Playoff Match-ups:

Wild Cards

FC Dallas vs. New York Red Bulls; Colorado Rapids vs. Houston Dynamo

Eastern Conference

Sporting Kansas City vs. Highest remaining Wild Card, Philadelphia Union vs. Columbus Crew

Western Conference

Los Angeles Galaxy vs. Lowest remaining Wild Card Seed; Seattle Sounders vs. Real Salt Lake


Which of the four teams still alive in the race for final playoff spot do you see breaking through? Who do you see finishing first in the East? Think Real Salt Lake holds on for third place in the West?

Share your thoughts below.


  1. The MLS wild card dance is a limbo.

    LA vs Philly, KC vs. SEA — that would be lively round. Exciting, even. Two actual winners would emerge, and then one would rightfully take home the silverware.

    Other than Dallas, none of these other teams are 2011 “championship” material and it will be a travesty of any of them squeak through to the final. Are the Rapids 2010 the new model for MLS Cup champions? Snooze alarm.

  2. You are obviously not from the Northwest. Every pitch in the Northwest becomes a swamp November through May. Did you see the monsoon that hit one of the Flounders games? Imagine that with grass and you get the ball hitting standing water and coming to a dead stop.

  3. Judging by the results that have been happening it is not out of the realm of possibilities. I think you might have jinxed the whole thing and now it will happen.

  4. LA, NY, and Seattle are the last 3 teams to complain about getting screwed? I think the league bends a lot for those three. I will have more respect for the Sounders organization once they start playing on grass, and get rid of the carpet!

  5. I’m sure RSL wants 3rd place, but as a fan I would almost rather see an extra game, plus I believe that would give RSL home field advantage thru it all???

  6. Since I’m a Sounders fan and we’re the ones getting really screwed here, I’d just like to point out that the disparity between the East and the West is undoubtedly temporary, and certainly unexpected. The format makes zero sense, but neither does changing it solely because of the current balance of power in the league. It’s temporary.

  7. Since I’m a Sounders fan and we’re the ones getting really screwed here, I’d just like to point out that the disparity between the East and the West is undoubtedly temporary, and certainly unexpected. The format makes zero sense, but neither does changing it solely because the current balance of power in the league. It’s temporary.

  8. The NBA was pretty close 10 years ago, when the West was stacked (sound familiar?). The East had the 2 great Jason Kidd Nets teams, but that was really it.

    The system isn’t great this year, but I think that before too long both the Union and KC will be top-caliber MLS teams, so this will be less of an issue.

  9. To be fair, the power differential between the conerences in MLS has been pretty unprecedented. I can’t remember a major pro sport having a problem anywhere near this magnitude. Any playoff structure in the US would have a problem if the unambiguously top 4 teams were stacked into one conference.

  10. well, basically, as a DC United fan, all I can hope for is that we win our last two games and that Chicago, NYRB and Portland lose all of their remaining games.

    crossing my fingers…need 44 points to realistically have a shot…

  11. Houston could still be #1 seed in the East. They’re the only team playing at home the final match day, Galaxy have nothing to play for, and Robertson will be rocking for the last Dynamo game in that stadium. Stranger things have happened….

  12. It’s certainly an evolving tournament in structure.

    What’s debatable is how (close or) far away they are from getting it correct. Though, “correct” is a relative term in itself.

  13. They (meaning MLS) knows it isn’t correct. That’s why they changed it this year. It’s still not straightforward seeding but they did improve it over the last few years, with the conference qualifiers getting a first round bye and the SS winner facing the lowest remaining wildcard. It’s still not fair to the 2nd and 3rd West seeds, because that conference is so much stronger than the East, but overall it’s an improvement over last year.

  14. You’re suggesting the implementation of logic to the playoff discussion?

    You must be one of those “Eurosnobs” (sarcasm) I’ve read a lot about today on SBI since you’re suggesting the system isn’t correct.

  15. So many problems with the current playoff format, but the glaringly obvious one is that the 2nd best team in the entire league (Seattle) has the toughest draw to reach the cup! Look, if MLS wants to give the two top seeds to the best Eastern conference and Western conference teams then fine. But could they PLEASE then seed the remaining teams accordingly, irrespective of conference?!

  16. CCL spot for finishing 3rd if SEA or LAG make it to the MLS Cup final regardless of MLS Cup play? Dallas and RSL want a CCL birth too.

  17. I wonder what Dallas and RSL would prefer:

    Finish 3rd and play Seattle and most likely LA to get to the Cup.

    Finish 4th: Play a home game against: NY, Portland or chicago, then play 2 of the follow KC, Philly or Columbus to get to the final.

    they are all good teams, but none are playing like Seattle or LA

    Seems fairly obvious what these teams will want.

  18. What NY has to do in their game is first predicated on the result of Wednesday’s match of DC-Portland. Not that NY has to tie or win. The weirdest scenario is is Chicago wins, Portland wins one, and NY loses. Here, Portland advances because of the 3 team head-to-head plays out in Portland’s favor. POR 7pts, NY 6 pts, CHI 2 pts.

  19. Goal difference is going to huge if the Red Bulls lose their next game. Not exactly sure if it is head to head that is the first tie-breaker or what but right now NYRB is +5 on goal difference and Portland is -8, DC is -2 and Chicago at 0.

    (SBI-Red Bulls hold the tie-breakers on Portland (head-to-head) and D.C. United (goal differential)). D.C. has to make up seven goals if NY draws and Chicago has to make up six goals on New York because the next tie-breaker after goal differential is total goals. In other words, New York is in with a draw vs. Philadelphia.)


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