Everything tightens up now as teams are fighting for playoff spots or positions. The situation in the West is insane, and it is going to be a dogfight the rest of the way. Yes, some teams are playing better than others at the moment, but just look at the deltas that RSL has been through over the last few months and you see how possible it is for a team to go on a run over 2-3 games, or fall apart, and how big of an impact that could have.
In a way, the East is even more competitive. While seven teams have locked in their playoff spots, another six or seven are fighting for those last 2 spots. The rest have been amazingly inconsistent so who knows how things play out.
A few notes to keep in mind these last few weeks. First, just because a team is out of the playoffs doesn’t mean they give up. Yes, Toronto is probably done, but even Colorado will put up a fight. The Galaxy probably doesn’t have the stuff to get into the playoffs, but that doesn’t mean they can’t make other teams earn every point they get.
Second, do not assume games in hand mean points. If the team is hot, maybe it does. Or maybe they were hot because other teams were playing more games (hence where their game(s) in hand came from) and they were fresher, but now that coin flips.
Travel in MLS is hard on teams. Playing an extra mid-week game is hard on teams. Yes, the potential for points is there, but unless it is at home against poor teams, don’t count on it turning into points. Is it possible? Absolutely. 100% possible. But historically it has been less often to lead to more than an extra draw.
One way or the other, the drama you saw in some of the Wednesday night games will continue as some teams stand and fight and others roll over and die.
That being said, there is one huge asterisk to this season, and that is Miami. And due to Messi’s injury, that asterisk has taken another big turn, but what kind of turn is it? See below for more.
So with all that on the table, let’s work into the details, shall we?
1. FC Cincinnati (Previously 2)
They are the Supporters Shield winners, and deservedly so. And they took it with a vengeance, tying at Montreal before shredding Charlotte and Toronto. This is not a team limping into the end of the season after running faster than all the rest and burning out. No, folks, this team is as hot as they have ever been. No predictions here that they win MLS Cup, but they definitely look the part of one of the better teams going into it all.
2. Orlando City (8)
Oscar Pareja’s lads have turned their post-Leagues Cup play into something impressive. Their last few include tying Miami at home before beating Montreal 3-0. Especially relative to other teams around them, they are showing their strength, with their 1-0 road win at Nashville putting a fine point on it.
3. Philadelphia Union (6)
There is a bit of a gap between Philly and Orlando in part because the Union have struggled to separate themselves. They have tied four of their five, at Charlotte, against LAFC, against Dallas, and at Columbus, before their home win over Atlanta. Four of those teams are probably making the playoffs, and two were on the road, but compared to Orlando, it is just a different pace.
4. St. Louis City SC (3)
After some down moments in the middle of the season, the expansion side has returned to their dominating ways, beating Minnesota on the road before destroying Sporting Kansas City – a team that has put itself into playoff contention after having a horrid first half of the year. Wednesday’s 3-0 loss at Vancouver is more a sign of the Whitecaps’ desperation and travel rather than St. Louis falling back.
5. Columbus Crew (7)
It took them a little while, but it sure seems that the Crew have adapted to their talent and their coaching staff, and are solidly in this group. Some of their recent results aren’t as eye-popping as Atlanta (tied at Dallas, tied by Philly at home), but they will beat you if you aren’t playing your best. *waives at New England*
6. Altanta United (10)
You had best bring your A-game when you play Atlanta, folks, because they will put 3-4-5 goals on you without hesitation if you let them. Recently, Miami found that out, as did Montreal, but other teams too. But like most high-powered teams, they don’t always do it, and that holds them back at times, as we saw on Wednesday they they lost at Philly.
7. New England Revolution (5)
That whole Bruce Arena thing could have become a huge distraction, a huge motivator, or just chaos. The team has found a way to get two road results (win at Colorado, tie at Chicago) and then a home win over Charlotte. Not the most difficult of opponents, but all good enough to punish you if you decide to be distracted. It is hard to speculate how they will go from here, but they aren’t cratering, and that is something significant. Then again, maybe their home loss to the Crew is a crack…
8. Real Salt Lake (12)
You have to feel for RSL fans for all the ups and downs they have been on lately. Stretches of great results and awful results, up and down and up and down. Yikes. Lately, they have been on the up, beating LAFC on the road on Sunday. When they are this good, watch out.
9. Nashville SC (4)
Nashville has, at times, shown the capacity to be really good. They have often been Quality. But not consistently enough and certainly not recently as they are on two ties – at San Jose and against Seattle – before their home loss to Orlando. Balance that against other results and it just isn’t keeping pace.
10. Seattle Sounders (16)
This is not the late-season Sounder of old, where they added a great international in July and then went on a tear. On the other hand, they have been very competitive and definitely dangerous. Being able to go to Tennessee and get a tie is not an easy thing to do, and beating the Galaxy at home is expected of a solid team.
11. Los Angeles FC (9)
It is really hard to tell which LAFC team we will get, in large part because they are doing well in a variety of competitions that make it hard for them to play a consistent, rested lineup. Their recent home loss to RSL probably isn’t an indicator of who they will be in the playoffs.
12. Portland Timbers (20)
You know how we keep talking about teams playing below their potential, as if at some point they could right their ship and get going? Well, meet the 2023 Portland Timbers. They have not lost in 7 games, winning five against good and bad teams, and tying twice on the road. This definitely has the look of a team getting hot at the right time.
13. Vancouver Whitecaps (13)
Their last four have been uninspiring, not the direction you want to go in the pitched battle that is the wild race to the Western Conference playoffs. Losing 4-1 at Houston, losing 2-1 at RSL, tying 2-2 at Colorado, and then tying D.C. 2-2 at home is not keeping pace with the pack. Can they turn that around? Wednesday’s 5-1 win over the Loons says yes.
14. FC Dallas (14)
Somewhat consistently this season, we have had Dallas higher than where they are in the standings, but we have stood by it and feel pretty vindicated at this point as Dallas continues to get results beyond teams around them. Tying Columbus, Philadelphia, and Houston (and Atlanta before that) is no easy feat. Winning at RSL is a big result. And don’t forget their epic game against a fully operational Messi Miami. And it is clear they are still not hitting on all cylinders. Then again, their situation is precarious enough that they could miss out on the playoffs, but they could also come in second in the West.
15. Houston Dynamo (11)
Their last five are 4-1 over Vancouver, losing to Sporting on the road, beating Miami in the Open Cup Final in Florida, and then being tied by Dallas at home and Montreal on the road. Not awful results but enough that they fall behind their Texas rivals for now.
16. San Jose Earthquakes (17)
In the mad dash to the playoffs, what the Earthquakes have been doing is not going to work. Losing at home to Portland, tying Nashville at home, and then tying at Minnesota probably won’t keep them above the red line.
17. Sporting Kansas City (18)
Peter Vermes will probably rue letting the season get so far away from him before his team turned things around because now, their margin is likely way too thin to make the playoffs. Unless teams ahead of them really fall apart, there are probably not enough points to lose 4-0 to St. Louis.
18. Inter Miami (1)
Yes, Messi is that important to this team. They were in their own tier with him, but now they are 18th without him – and the results reflect it. A tie at Orlando, a home loss to Houston in the US Open Cup Final, and a home tie to NYCFC is where a team would be on those results. Not great, not terrible. Definitely better than they were before Busquets and Alba got there, let alone Martino and Martinez. Can they find their way into the playoffs? Not with results like Wednesday night against Chicago.
19. New York City FC (24)
This is a team that should have been much better this season, and they have had a few results of late that make us think they could be getting it together. Beating Orlando at home is legit. Beating Toronto at home is easy, but still needed doing. Tying at Miami is not easy. So maybe they are a team rising.
20. Chicago Fire (27)
While not as much as NYC, Chicago does seem to be getting their collective stuff together, including a tie against New England and a win at the Red Bulls before demolishing Inter on Wednesday. As tight as things are, that is a strong statement.
21. New York Red Bulls (26)
It was hard to tell if the Red Bulls were going to assert themselves as they beat D.C. United 5-3, but they also lost at home to Chicago and had been tied by Austin at home before both of those games. Then they went to Ohio and beat FC Cincinnati – Hello.
22. Austin FC (25)
They had a fantastic 2022 season, and overall seem to be a solid franchise, but some of 2022 was chemistry that is just hard to replicate year in and year out, and some of it was new players that the league had yet to adjust to. This season has seen both of those things put to the side, and there may not be enough time for Austin to overcome their deficiencies. Then again, play like they did on Wednesday, and maybe not. Remember, though, beating D.C. is one thing. Not every team has given up on the season…
23. Charlotte (19)
While they had some moments in 2023, the results right now are not what the Crown needs. Granted, they have had to play Philadelphia, Cincinnati, and New England, but one point is not going to be good enough. Even their win against Toronto, which while emphatic, might just be too little too late.
24. Minnesota United (15)
They started the year strong, fighting against some roster adversity, but since then, they have fallen back steadily. Their last three games include a loss at the Galaxy, a home loss against St. Louis, and then a home tie to San Jose. Before Wednesday, we wondered if they could turn it around. Losing to LAFC 5-1 was not the response we were looking for.
25. LA Galaxy (22)
This team definitely has more talent than they have shown, and have at times played like it, but not often enough. Yes, they tied Austin on the road but then were tied by Portland at home, when they really needed to win at least one of those games – either at Austin because they are so poor, or Portland because it was at home. And then they lost at Seattle…
26. CF Montreal (21)
For a team that played so well last year, this year is a good example that coaching really does matter, and while they have had some moments of good play during 2023, they seem to be limping to the finish line with two rough road losses to good teams, 4-1 to Atlanta and then 3-0 to Orlando, before their home tie to Houston on Wednesday.
27. D.C. United (23)
This team started the year low as we had questions about the roster and the manager. Despite some ups here and there, overall the team has played to our expectations, with a 5-3 loss to the poor Red Bulls and 3-0 loss at Austin as Exhibits A and B as to who they really are.
28. Colorado Rapids (28)
How else to describe this team but poor? They have been terrible for so much of the season, and other than their win over Austin recently, just have not shown any life.
29. Toronto FC (29)
We have seen some bad teams since the Inaugural MLS season, and while we aren’t going to try to make a case they are the worst ever, we can’t seem to remember a team that couldn’t seem to get it together like TFC has. Other teams have lacked talent, lacked coaching – things like that. This team seems to not be able to get anything going despite having some talent and some quality in the coaching room.