With only five more games left in Orlando City's inaugural MLS season, it's essentially a "win or go home" kind of mentality in the tight Eastern Conference playoff race. As it stands today, Orlando is only one point away from being in the last spot in the playoffs, but with three more games in hand, Montreal is in the driver's seat when it comes to that final playoff berth. With all the other teams behind Orlando within five points or less of each other, let's take a closer look at how much of a chance the Lions will have at making the playoffs.
First up is the Montreal Impact, which has played the fewest MLS games this season so far, due to their CONCACAF Champions League run early on this year. As a result, a lot of their makeup games were scheduled towards the end of the year. So, starting today, the Impact will be playing three games in eight days, then again on Oct. 3 at Orlando, and then another three games in an eight-day cycle will commence.
The rest of September will be played in Montreal against Eastern Conference teams. The Impact have the New England Revolution tonight, then the Chicago Fire next Wednesday, followed by D.C. United next Saturday. Then. when October begins, the Impact will travel across the country for all but their final game of the season, at home against Toronto FC on Oct. 25.
The only other team within the top six other than the Impact that is even close to being caught, is Toronto FC. The month of September has not been kind to the Reds, as they have lost their last three games. Only five points ahead of Orlando, this team, which is historically bad at dropping points late in the season, could fall all the way out of the playoff race.
However, their schedule does help them a bit. Their next three games are against Colorado, Chicago and Philadelphia -- all teams at the bottom of the standings. All of these games are also being played in Toronto, so winning all of them will most likely put them out of reach. Their last three games of the season will go against New York Red Bulls, Columbus, and Montreal, and, since RBNY and the Crew are pretty much solidified in the playoffs, these games could be seeing some backups playing in order to rest up for the postseason.
Orlando's expansion team compatriots New York City FC have five more games left in their season, like the Lions. Unlike Orlando, only three of those games will be played against Eastern Conference opponents. To end the month of September, NYC heads to San Jose, which is still fighting for a playoff spot, and Vancouver, which is first overall in the entire league at this time. In October, NYC will travel to D.C. United, then will have a week off, play Orlando at the Citrus Bowl, and then will finish out the year hosting New England.
Currently two points behind Orlando sit the Philadelphia Union. Technically, they only have five games left in league play, however the U.S. Open Cup Final against Sporting Kansas City will be played at the end of the month in Philly, so there's a big midweek game for the Union that they have to worry about right in the middle of their playoff campaign. Other than that, Philly has four of its last five games against Eastern Conference opponents, with the outlier being tomorrow night's game against the Houston Dynamo. Then the Union will have to deal with New England, Toronto, and New York Red Bulls away from home, before ending the season back in Philly against Orlando.
Finally, we have tonight's opponent for Orlando, the Chicago Fire. Currently five points behind Orlando, the Fire have six games left in their season, all against conference opponents. After tonight's game, Chicago will travel to Montreal, then play a weird Monday night game in Toronto, come back home to host the Revolution, then go on to the nation's capital to play D.C. United, before finally returning home to host the New York Red Bulls.
All in all, Montreal probably has the best chance to make the playoffs, since four of the Impact's last eight games are at home and they currently have the point advantage over the rest of the field, but the multiple games in a row could hurt them and Orlando or the field could take advantage of the opportunity. As I said in the beginning, it's a "win or go home" kind of mentality from here on in.