MLS: Analyzing Eastern Conference playoff race

FOXBOROUGH, MA - AUGUST 24: New England Revolution sporting director and head coach Bruce Arena watches from the coaches box during a match between the New England Revolution and the Chicago Fire on August 24, 2019, at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
FOXBOROUGH, MA - AUGUST 24: New England Revolution sporting director and head coach Bruce Arena watches from the coaches box during a match between the New England Revolution and the Chicago Fire on August 24, 2019, at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) /

With six teams fighting for the last two playoffs spots in the Eastern Conference, the end of the 2019 MLS regular season is set to be an exciting one.

As Major League Soccer approaches the final few weeks of the 2019 MLS regular season, the playoff picture starts getting clearer and clearer. Some teams have already clinched their spot in the postseason, with others securing home-field advantage in the opening rounds.

However, there is still a lot left to be decided. That is especially true in the MLS Eastern Conference as six teams are left fighting for the final two spots. It is an incredibly heated race, and with everyone’s upcoming schedule in mind, things should only get more and more intriguing as we approach Decision Day on October 6th.

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Here are the main contenders for the final two MLS Eastern Conference playoff places.

New York Red Bulls: 30 Games Played, 41 Points

Somehow, someway, the New York Red Bulls find themselves in a real dogfight. They started the season on the front foot and seemed set to challenge for the Supporters’ Shield once again. However, the wheels have come off for New York. Injuries have crippled them throughout the year and their lack of depth was exposed because of it. Now, they are only a few points above the playoff line, with the chasing pack getting closer and closer. The Red Bulls were handed their third-straight defeat on Sunday afternoon, losing to the Seattle Sounders 4-2.

New York do have a game in hand, but it’s against the Portland Timbers at Providence Park. Things won’t get much easier as they then host the Philadelphia Union before a bitter contest against D.C. United. They close the campaign away to the Montreal Impact, where they might be in desperate need of a result. Missing the playoffs would be a nightmare for all involved with the club, but it might just be a reality for the Red Bulls this season.

New England Revolution: 30 Games Played, 40 Points

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Still in control of their own destiny, the New England Revolution had a huge chance to really cement their spot in the postseason on Saturday. Up 3-1 in Orlando, the Revolution were in full control of the contest. However, they fell apart in the second half, conceding two goals in quick succession. They ultimately had to survive a late push just to secure a point and were left to wonder what could — and perhaps should — have been on the night.

New England will have the chance to right those wrongs when they host Real Salt Lake next week. They then have to make a midweek trip to Portland to play the Timbers before returning home to take on NYCFC. Their campaign will conclude on the road as they’ll head down south to face Atlanta United. It’s a grueling final stretch for the Revolution, who now have little room for error after dropping two points in Orlando.

Montreal Impact: 31 Games Played, 37 Points

The team that hurt their playoff odds the most this past weekend, the Montreal Impact dealt themselves a huge blow by losing at home to last place FC Cincinnati. The Impact could not have started off the contest worse. They conceded in the opening minute. Unable to simply clear the ball away, it bounced around the penalty area before falling to Allan Cruz, who eventually prodded home.

At that point, Cincinnati sat back and absorbed pressure. The onus was on Montreal to create, and they did precisely that, in fairness. However, they couldn’t finish off any of their chances. When Kendall Watson was sent off for Cincinnat, Montreal received a boost in the closing stages, but ultimately couldn’t make it count and were held scoreless on the night.

That result is an especially dreadful one when you consider their upcoming schedule. The Impact have to fly across the entire United States to start taking on Zlatan Ibrahimovic and the Los Angeles Galaxy in California. They then have to make the return trip home, facing off against Atlanta United. As mentioned prior, their season comes to a close in Montreal against the Red Bulls, which will likely be the most important game in terms of deciding how the Eastern Conference ends up.

Chicago Fire: 31 Games Played, 37 Points

After some truly woeful performances in the past few weeks, it’s almost impossible to believe that the Chicago Fire still have a decent chance of sneaking into the playoffs. They had recently lost in New England to the Revolution before failing to beat the Columbus Crew only seven days later. Most fans decided to give up at that point, but they now have hope once again after the Fire demolished FC Dallas on Saturday night, reclaiming the Brimstone Cup in the process. Chicago scored early and often, with CJ Sapong grabbing a brace and Przemysław Frankowksi and Nemanja Nikolić each adding one of their own within the opening 45 minutes.

Of all the teams left in the playoff hunt, Chicago might have the easiest remaining schedule. They do start on the road, but they will face a Cincinnati team with an historically bad defense. The Fire then return home to play Toronto FC in the last game at SeatGeek Stadium (formerly known as Toyota Park) before Chicago returns to Soldier Field next year, so expect them to come out motivated in front of a nearly sold-out arena. Then, they finish up the season away to Orlando City, where they’ve never lost before. They have an uphill task in front of them, but a kind schedule will aid them in their way.

Orlando City: 31 Games Played, 36 Points

Orlando City were able to perfectly sum up how chaotic their season has truly been in the span of 90 minutes this past weekend. Hosting the New England Revolution, Orlando gave up an own-goal to start the match before equalizing through a header from Nani. They then conceded two more goals, their defensive issues again coming to roost, before making a miraculous recovery in the second half. They even had a few chances to steal a late winner.

Taking all three points would have been astonishing for Orlando and thrust them right into the thick of the playoff race. Now, they face an interesting final stretch of the season, where the odds of winning every game is the same as losing all of them. It starts with a trip to Houston to take on a Dynamo team that has been effectively eliminated from playoff contention. They then go to Cincinnati — the expansion side will be looking to play spoiler since they’ve got nothing else to play for. Their season concludes with a massive match-up against fellow playoff hopefuls, the Chicago Fire. They have been a mess all year, but if Orlando can finally show some consistency, they have got a decent chance of extending their season.

Columbus Crew: 31 Games Played, 34 Points

Just a few days ago, it seemed the Columbus Crew had no hope left of making the playoffs. But then came the weekend, in which they were able to save their season with a truly remarkable victory against Atlanta United. Going on the road to take on the reigning MLS Cup champions, Columbus were heavy underdogs. They weren’t in great form either, winning only one of their last six games going into the contest. Things went as expected to start the afternoon, as Josef Martinez poked home from close range to give the hosts the lead. However, the Crew exploded offensively in the second half, grabbing goals through Gyasi Zardes and Luis Diaz before benefiting from an Atlanta own-goal to complete a comeback victory.

Columbus still have a lot left to do and will need to win every game left to have any hopes of sneaking into the postseason. It won’t be easy as two of their last three are on the road in Vancouver and Toronto, with their only home game left being against the incredibly impressive Philadelphia Union. They need a minor miracle, but the Crew have pulled off the seemingly impossible before, so supporters will have some reason left to hope at the very least.

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With three or four games to go for most of the Eastern Conference playoff hopefuls, the race is really hotting up. There is still plenty to play for amid the MLS’ craziest of periods. Who makes it to the playoffs and who missed out, then, is anyone’s guess.