MLS 2017 Playoff Primer
The Audi 2017 MLS Cup Playoffs are set to begin October 25 culminating with the Cup Final on December 9th. So lets take a look at those teams that made it, how they got there, and how the brackets shakes out.
Twelve teams are in, six from each conference. Those teams that garnered the most points during the regular season. The five lowest scoring teams from each conference have already gone home. Not a big fan of sports where over half the teams make the playoffs but that discussion is probably best saved for another day. So lets take a look at whose in.
(You can discuss this on the BSL Board here.)
The six teams are as follows:
1. Toronto FC – 69 points
2. New York City FC – 57 points
3. Chicago Fire – 55 points
4. Atlanta United FC – 55 points
5. Columbus Crew – 54 points
6. New York Red Bulls – 50 points
Based upon their regular season performance Toronto and NYCFC both get first round byes. The next highest seeded team, Chicago, hosts the NY Red Bulls and Atlanta hosts Columbus. So clearly there is some definite advantage to your regular season performance. Getting a bye and a weeks rest after a long season is a big benefit. And for the teams that don’t earn the bye week there is still a strong incentive in getting to hose the first round match.
So how does the Fire and Red Bulls match look? Well lets digress just a minute and talk about some interesting data on just how home teams fare in MLS play. The short version is the home team wins. For the 2017 season the home teams earned an average of 1.94 points/game. Higher than the averages of all four of the big European leagues which range from 1.54 points/game in the English Premier League to 1.72 points/game in the Spanish La Liga. Even casual soccer fans know that soccer is a win at home and draw on the road. But the MLS has taken winning at home to new heights! And the 12 teams that made the MLS playoffs averaged an astonishing 2.16 points/game at home.
No team that made the playoffs this year lost more than three home matches and four clubs (Toronto, Houston, KC, and Seattle) lost but one home match all season. Simply put the top clubs just don’t lose at home. Since the format of the current playoffs was adopted in 2011 only one team, the Houston Dynamos of 2012 reached the Cup Final by being a road team in the knockout round. The good news is that IF a road team survives the knockout round their chances vastly improve since the Conference semi-finals and Conference Championships use the home and home two match series.
Chicago Fire vs New York Red Bulls
This is an interesting matchup. Over the last two seasons the Fire have never beaten the Red Bulls managing but two draws and three loses. However, the Red Bulls only managed one away win the last seven away matches this year and didn’t play particularly well in them either. The Fire averaged 0.2 more goals per match then the Red Bulls and they both had the same number of goals allowed. But at the end of the day I think the key is whether Bastian Schweinsteiger returns for the Fire. If he is back from his thigh injury that spells trouble for the Red Bulls. Chicago already has the league leader in goal scoring in Nemanja Nikolic. If Schweinsteiger returns that will be just too much fire power up to to overcome.
So I am going with Chicago to win at home 2-1.
Atlanta United vs Columbus Crew
I might as well admit right up front that I have a soft spot for Columbus. The only player I ever had the privilege of coaching that made it to the MLS played for Columbus. So I am pulling for them. But don’t look past Atlanta! They had a tremendous season finishing fourth in the Conference and this was their inaugural season. Just the third team in the history of the league to make the playoffs in their first season.
Columbus comes in on a high note having six wins and four draws in their last ten matches. Atlanta also played well over their last ten matches going 5-1-4 however they did stumble a bit the last several weeks going a paltry 0-1-3.
This one looks pretty favorable for the home team. If the number of fans turn out in Atlanta that did this past Sunday then its going to be an tough atmosphere for Columbus to overcome. Atlanta had almost 72,000 fans at that match, the all time record for an MLS match. Higher attendance, by the way, than 22 NFL teams have averaged so far this year.
The one hitch for Atlanta is that defender Michael Parkhurst had to be subbed out Sunday after he came up lame. Atlanta is already missing left back Greg Garza. Missing two starting defenders would be a tough blow. But Atlanta lost only one home match in their last 14 and averaged three goals for those matches.
70,000 screaming fans say Atlanta wins this one…..3-1.
The six playoff teams are as follows:
1. Portland Timbers – 53 points
2. Seattle Sounders – 53 points
3. Vancouver Whitecaps – 52 points
4. Houston Dynamo – 50 points
5. Sporting Kansas City – 49 points
6. San Jose Earthquakes – 46 points
So in the West, rivals Portland and Seattle earned the first round byes. Lets look at the other two knockout matches.
Vancouver Whitecaps vs San Jose Earthquakes
Here’s pretty much the story line. The Whitecaps are unbeaten at home in their last seven regular season matches. On the flip side the Earthquakes lost eight of their last ten road matches and allowed an average of three goals/match. This doesn’t bode well for the Quakes.
Stick with the home club here…..2-0.
Houston Dynamo vs Sporting Kansas City
This match set for Thursday will be the third time these two clubs have met in the last two weeks. Of course, the stakes are a bit higher this time around. Will the home team prevail?
Well yes. Houston will win this one at home. The Dynamos had a stout 12-1-4 record at home this season. They just don’t lose at BBVA Compass Stadium. And unfortunately for Sporting they have struggled a bit the second half of the season, posting only four wins since July 1 and having gone a weak 0-3-2 in their final five matches.
And it doesn’t look to be much better for Sporting coach Peter Vermes’ side. Star goalkeeper Tim Melia, a candidate for the MLS Goalkeeper of the Year award, suffered a hamstring injury on October 7th. If he isn’t available it might be a tough day in Houston. But if he can make a go of it then Sporting does have the defense to keep the match tight. And anything can happen if you have a hot goalkeeper.
Still I think Houston wins a tight close match, 1-0.
So some pretty good soccer to watch here in the US starting tomorrow night. Check these matches out and we’ll report next week on the results and what it means for the next round.