MLS Playoffs Set-Up: Light Fuse, Run Away

Even the littlest guy has a chance to make the playoffs this year....

Even the littlest guy has a chance to make the playoffs this year….

Steve Fenn provides this week’s playoff implications Cliff Notes.

Those who make the MLS schedules are probably used to being questioned.

Why are clubs so often uneven in number of games played? Why doesn’t the league put a high-profile match or two on the day after baseball’s All-Star game, the slowest sports day of the year? Why aren’t the regular season finales synchronized?

All valid on certain levels, but the schedulers do deserve a little praise for getting the whole league even on 32 matches played right now, making the march into the playoffs pretty cleancut. (Editor’s note: You say schedulers; I hear single entity).

New York, Portland, Kansas City, Salt Lake, Seattle and LA are within two points of each other in the Supporter Shield race. Montreal, Chicago, and Philadelphia are tied for 4th in the East, with Houston only two points ahead and New England just a single point behind.

Colorado, San Jose, and Vancouver are also within just one result of each other.

I haven’t found a precedent for a playoff race in any sport being this close across an entire league with 2 games left. Portland has the best Supporters Shield odds (by a hair), but hasn’t clinch a playoff spot yet. Even in a league that highly values parity, we may never see a race like this ever again.

Every MLS fixture this week will have a significant influence on playoff seeding.

To get a feel for the implications, here are some graphs of each club’s current playoff odds, and where those odds will be if they win, lose, or draw this weekend. Odds taken from Sports Club Stats, who run Monte Carlo simulations weighted by each team’s goal differential.


You can clearly see that the 3rd through 7th seeds in this conference are fluid. All of them are at significant risk if they lose, and they make huge strides with a win. Columbus are the walking dead, and can only get in if they sweep New England in their season-closing home-&-home while 2 other clubs fall by the wayside.


Not as many contenders as the East, but at least more of they are all playing each other. If Colorado beats Vancouver and LA beats San Jose, the conference’s top five will be set, with order relative to each other the only Western issue to be sorted out next week.


Clearly, none of these clubs can really afford a loss, and draws are generally pretty bad, too. While Portland narrowly has the highest odds currently, the biggest takeaway is that no one’s Shield chances are in any way stable.

Of note for all three of the races we’ve discussed, every result has trickle-down effects on third parties. Probability is zero sum, meaning that when one club loses odds that percentage is split between everyone else. For example, here are the probability swings for Shield contenders if RSL and the Timbers tie:


While Portland would obviously the most effected by this outcome, Sporting Kansas City’s odds would increase more than Salt Lake’s would be hurt, and New York is about even. Meanwhile this is clearly one of the results that the longshot Galaxy and Sounders should be rooting for. Look at pretty much any other fixture this weekend and you’ll see that it’s outcome will impact the postseason chances of multiple non-participants, too.

We may be heading into the most exciting weekend of regular season MLS matches ever. Every manager should know just how important a win would be, and none should view a draw as an acceptable result.

One response to this post.

  1. Posted by mbw on 2013/10/26 at 11:42 AM

    Le Toux and McInerney on the bench for Philly in their must-win game. Okugo and Kleberson in central midfield. Interested to see how this goes.


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