A look at all the teams in the Eastern Conference still vying for a playoff spot with two weeks left of the MLS season.
Three matches remain in the 2022 Major League Soccer regular season. That is all that is left for Columbus Crew to get into the MLS Cup playoff picture or risk missing out on the postseason for the second straight year.
If there is ever a time for a team to get a run of wins, this is it. After four matches without a win, the Black & Gold sit below the playoff play, currently tied with Inter Miami on points, but with Miami owning the tiebreaker with 12 wins compared to Columbus’ nine.
Here is a look at all the positions in play for the MLS Cup playoffs:
New York City FC is still mathematically possible to drop out of the MLS Cup playoffs, but it is highly improbable. The Crew would need to win out, Inter and Orlando City SC would need to draw, Miami would need to win against Toronto FC and CF Montreal while improving their -11 goal differential to overcome NYCFC’s +14, and Orlando would need to beat NYCFC while also improving their goal differential of minus six to surpass NYCFC’s goal differential to reach fourth place in the Eastern Conference and get a home game in the postseason.
The New England Revolution is technically still in the race, but a win or three draws from the Black & Gold or Miami eliminates last year’s Supporters’ Shield winners. Also, New England is eliminated with a loss or draw in the team’s remaining matches.
Charlotte FC’s playoff hopes are contingent on the team’s game against Columbus. If the Crew defeats Charlotte in a rescheduled match on Oct., the expansion side will be eliminated for the MLS Cup playoffs. Charlotte has the most difficult schedule over last three matches with home games against the Philadelphia Union and the Black & Gold Crew and an away at the New York Red Bulls. One loss across any of these matches makes Charlotte’s playoff chances very difficult.
Atlanta United is the only team below Columbus that could give Crew supporters anxiety. Atlanta has found decent form in the team’s last few matches, going 2-2-1, and take on New England, 1-3-1, and NYCFC, 1-3-1 also, who are both struggling in form. Both the Black & Gold and Inter need at least five more points to hold off a surging United side.
FC Cincinnati moved into fifth place in the East after the team’s tie against the Seattle Sounders, which puts the Ohio side in a more secure position for the postseason, especially with the team’s remaining schedule. Cincinnati has the easiest schedule to end the season, taking on Chicago Fire at home and then traveling to bottom-of-MLS D.C. United for the final match of the season. One victory would essentially secure a spot in the MLS Cup playoffs.
Two losses could see Cincinnati on the outside of the playoffs if Columbus wins two matches and Miami draws one and wins one match. Two draws could also see Cincinnati out of the playoffs if the Crew and Inter both win two matches, although the Black & Gold and Cincinnati would be tied on wins and potentially on goal differential. If both teams are tied on both goal differential and wins, Columbus would break on the tiebreaker on having fewer disciplinary points as the Crew has significantly fewer yellow cards and red cards.
Surpassing Miami for the final MLS Cup playoff spot is the simplest solution for the Black & Gold. The teams are tied on points and have the same number of games left. Miami will hold a tiebreaker over Columbus if both teams finish with the same number of points. The Crew can qualify for the postseason if the team secures more points over the last three matches than Inter. The Black & Gold and Miami both have equivalent schedules, with Inter taking on Toronto away, and Orlando and Montreal at home. Columbus will play Red Bulls at home, and Charlotte and Orlando away.
Orlando City sits above both the Crew and Miami and may be the deciding factor come Decision Day. With matches against New York City, the Black & Gold and Inter, the Lions will have a major say on who makes the playoffs. The match against the Red Bulls will either solidify New York’s hold on the final home position or open the door more for other teams. The matches against Columbus and Miami could present playoff life or playoff death. Draws against both Columbus and Inter would work in Miami’s favor. In Orlando’s last five matches, there has been an average of almost four goals per game and no result has ended in a draw.
It is still possible for the Crew to host a home playoff game if the team wins the rest of its matches and New York City draws no more than once and loses at least once. Other results would also need to go Columbus’ way, including Orlando not getting more than five points, Cincinnati getting four or fewer points and Miami failing to get nine points. On the slight chance that the Crew gets a home play match, the likely opponent would be Cincinnati.
One potential factor in the playoff race is the three matches in southern Florida. Miami is set to host Orlando and Montreal, while Orlando is set to host the Black & Gold. Hurricane Ian, a potential category 5 hurricane, is causing massive damage to Florida while also on a collision course towards Orlando. Miami is on the outer edge of the hurricane. It remains to be seen whether any of these matches will have to be moved. These games will all be played in the final week of the MLS regular season and all hold huge playoff implications, so MLS might need to consider other venues to host the matches.