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View from the End Line: Schedules, Math, and Wild Guesses

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The race for a playoff spot in the East might be tighter than you think.

MLS: U.S. Open Cup-Atlanta United FC at Orlando City SC Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

The Eastern Conference race for the playoffs is getting more and more interesting by the week. Mathematically speaking, everyone in still in, but realistically, FC Cincinnati — currently on 18 points — will most certainly not make it this season. Positions five through 11 are currently separated by only 11 points, and most teams still have nine matches to play.

With two months left to go in the 2019 regular season, just what does each team’s schedule look like, and how do they compare to each other? I will be putting the scheduled matches and opponents through a complex algorithm to determine who has it easy, and who is staring up at Everest from base camp.

I will walk you through the teams below, listing their remaining matches in scheduled order, with their opponents’ current standing in their conference.

No. 5: New York Red Bulls

After their match against Los Angeles FC on Sunday, the Red Bulls switched positions with D.C. United, failing to improve upon their 37 points for the season with nine matches remaining. Those matches are:

Playing five of nine on the road as the season closes is tough, and coupled with the relative positions of the opponents means a tough road lies ahead for the Red Bulls. They haven’t helped themselves in being vulnerable at home this season, either.

No. 6: New England Revolution

The Revs are currently on 34 points with nine matches remaining. Those matches are:

  • at NYRB (5th)
  • vs. Chicago (10th)
  • vs. Toronto (8th)
  • at NYCFC (4th)
  • at Orlando (9th)
  • vs. Real Salt Lake (6th in West)
  • at Portland (8th in West)
  • vs. NYCFC (4th)
  • at Atlanta United FC (2nd)

The Revs may have gotten the rough end of the schedule stick, playing five of nine away, including at NYRB, NYCFC, OCSC, and Atlanta to finish the season. Bruce Arena has come in and has the club in form, but can the Revolution hold on through the tough stretch ahead?

No. 7: Montreal Impact

The Impact are currently on 33 points with eight matches remaining. Those matches are:

  • vs. FC Dallas (7th in West)
  • at Toronto (8th)
  • vs. Vancouver (12th in West)
  • vs. D.C. United (3rd)
  • vs. FC Cincinnati (12th)
  • at LA Galaxy (5th in West)
  • vs. Atlanta (2nd)
  • vs. NYRB (5th)

I can’t help but notice that the Impact play six of eight at home as they close out 2019. The Impact will certainly gain some benefit from that, although the strength of the teams traveling to play them is not to be taken lightly. Montreal is also having an odd run of form lately, and will need to turn it around before the last playoff position slips away.

No. 8: Toronto FC

The other club from the frigid north has nine matches left and is also on 33 points, but Montreal holds the first tiebreaker (the order: number of wins, goal differential, goals for). Those matches are:

  • at Columbus (11th)
  • vs. Montreal (7th)
  • at New England (6th)
  • at FC Cincinnati (12th)
  • at NYCFC (4th)
  • vs. Colorado Rapids (11th in West)
  • at Los Angeles FC (1st in West)
  • at Chicago (10th)
  • vs. Columbus (11th)

Toronto plays six of the final nine matches on the road as the season comes to an end. The Reds have a few tough matches, but if they continue their recent form, they would be expected to pick up a solid number of points.

No. 9: Orlando City SC

The Lions are currently sitting on 30 points (last season they managed only 28) with nine matches remaining. Those matches are:

Orlando gets five at home and four on the road, but look at some of the opponents. There are plenty of opportunities for the Lions to get points, but the need is for three, not one. The Lions’ form is much better than last season, and they continue to improve every match, so it isn’t impossible to think they could sneak into the seventh spot, but it will certainly take some help. The Lions also hold a pretty good road record this season, but they do face a number of Western Conference teams, so they will need help from everyone else in the East — namely those top four teams in the conference, well maybe three of them.

No. 10: Chicago Fire

The Fire have 30 points as well, but lose on the first tiebreaker to the Lions. Chicago only has eight matches left, which are:

  • at Portland (8th in West)
  • vs. Philly (1st)
  • at New England (6th)
  • at Columbus Crew (11th)
  • vs. FC Dallas (7th in West)
  • at FC Cincinnati (12th)
  • vs. Toronto (8th)
  • at Orlando City (9th)

Five of those eight are on the road for the Fire to close out the regular season, and although they have been looking better over their last few matches, their road record does not inspire much hope.

No. 11 Columbus Crew

The Crew are currently on 26 points with only eight matches left and still have a chance mathematically. The remaining fixtures are:

  • vs. Toronto (8th)
  • at NYCFC (4th)
  • at FC Cincinnati (12th)
  • vs. Chicago (10th)
  • at Atlanta (2nd)
  • at Vancouver (12th in West)
  • vs. Philly (1st)
  • at Toronto (8th)

Five of those eight are also away for Columbus. Similarly to Chicago, the Crew’s road record is not good, and they will face some pretty tough teams across the final matches of the season, especially looking at those final two matches — they could be facing a team vying for the No. 1 spot in the East and then a team which might be looking to snag that last playoff spot.

I have spent the past three days trying to derive a formula to express the above information into something predictive, but nothing seems to work. So many of the teams above are streaky, like Montreal and New England, although their runs of form have been polar opposites.

The race for the playoffs is absolutely anyone’s guess at the moment, and it looks like everyone minus freshman FC Cincinnati has a shot. Orlando’s odds will be heavily dictated by the next three or four weeks of play. Wins, not draws, are now a must for Orlando if it wants a chance to be above the red line come October, and finally beating Atlanta in a few weeks could add some extra pressure on United as they chase the top spot in the East.

There is no reason to think the season is over, because it most certainly is not. No one thought that Tool would ever put out its new album and allow streaming services to stream their catalog, and guess what...they did.