Five Leaves Left: NYCFC and the Playoffs

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From Last Word on Soccer, Martin Bihl

Including Saturday’s match against FC Dallas, New York City Football Club have five opportunities to solidify their position in the playoffs. So I did little “back of the envelope” calculating, looking at who NYCFC were playing and who everyone else in the conference were playing, in order to get a little clarity about NYCFC and the playoffs – if for no other reason than to make me slightly less nervous about the ramifications of Saturday’s match.

Now I realize that my prognostication skills are barely the equivalent of, say, a coke-addled bonobo, but is accuracy really all that important? We’re all just looking into a crystal ball and guessing, right? Except, of course, some of us are looking with their eyes open and using logic and reason, while I’m just using, um, well a laptop and a bottle of whiskey. But hey, you dance with the girl that brung ya, right?

Let’s start with the current standings

As of this writing, September 14th, the Eastern Conference looks like this:

Toronto FC – 46 points

New York Red Bulls – 44 points

New York City FC – 44 points

Philadelphia Union – 41 points

Impact de Montreal – 38 points

Orlando City SC – 34 points

New England Revolution – 33 points

D.C. United – 33 points

Chicago Fire – 26 points

Columbus Crew – 26 points

And also as of today, here’s how many fixtures everyone has left:

Toronto FC – 6

New York Red Bulls – 5

New York City FC – 5

Philadelphia Union – 5

Impact de Montreal – 6

Orlando City SC – 6

New England Revolution – 5

D.C. United – 6

Chicago Fire – 7

Columbus Crew – 7

(what is it with Chicago and Columbus? Did they have a sick kid or vacation plans they just couldn’t get out of or something? Five gameweeks left and they’ve got seven matches to play? Who does that?)

Now, I won’t bore you with the details of my specific predictions about the matches (contact me if you’re really curious), but here’s what I think the teams will add to their current totals when all is said and done:

Toronto FC – 12 points

New York Red Bulls – 11 points

New York City FC – 8 points

Philadelphia Union – 5 points

Impact de Montreal – 10 points

Orlando City SC – 6 points

Okay, now let’s stop right there and review. You may think I’m being a little tough on Philadelphia, but consider this: they have to fly to Portland this week, and then play Toronto away and have two matches against the Red Bulls. Look the word “brutal” up in the dictionary and you see a picture of Philly’s remaining schedule.

That’s why I see Montreal, who play the Revolution twice and host the San Jose Earthquakes, leapfrogging Philadelphia by season’s end, making the top six look something like this.

Toronto FC – 58

New York Red Bulls – 55 points

New York City FC – 52 points

Impact de Montreal – 48 points

Philadelphia Union – 46 points

Orlando City SC – 40 points

But wait, there’s more –

Now let’s return to the bottom four teams, three of whom have at least one game in hand on the rest of the conference. I’m thinking they’ll pull the following points out of their remaining fixtures:

New England Revolution – 6 points

D.C. United – 11 points

Chicago Fire – 5 points

Columbus Crew – 1 point

Now I know what you’re thinking – what do any of these gutter dwellers have to do with NYCFC and the playoffs? But bear with me. You no doubt noticed I’m giving 11 points to D.C. United. But look at their schedule! They play Orlando twice, and Columbus and Chicago once each. And they host NYCFC at RFK in October, and we all know how that worked out last season. Eleven points out of six matches when two of them are against two of the worst teams in the league is not unreasonable. Especially for a team that has loaded up with attackers this season like D.C. United has.

Which means that at season’s end, the whole Eastern Conference table could look like this:

Toronto FC – 58

New York Red Bulls – 55 points

New York City FC – 52 points

Impact de Montreal – 48 points

Philadelphia Union – 46 points

D.C. United – 44 points

Orlando City SC – 40 points

New England Revolution – 39 points

Chicago Fire – 31 points

Columbus Crew – 27 points

That’s right, D.C. United jump over Orlando into the final spot. Oh, and who do D.C. United play in the last match of the season? Orlando. In Orlando. Which means that match could actually be a sort of play-in for the final playoff spot.

All of which means

Now, if I’m right, which sure, I’m probably not, but if I am, then that means NYCFC would host DC United for a rematch of that thrilling extra-time goal-a-palooza everybody enjoyed a few weeks ago. And if NYCFC win that, which of course, we all hope they will?

They’d get to face the Red Bulls in the second round.

Oh and speaking of them…

Even as I am typing these words, the Red Bulls are playing in the CONCACAF Champions League. Right now they’re hosting the Salvadoran side Alianza F.C. but more importantly for NYCFC and the playoffs, they still have to play against the Guatemalan side Antigua G.F.C.

So between their home matches against Montreal and Philadelphia, – that is, in the middle of playing the number one, number four and number five team in their conference – they have to make a four thousand mile round trip flight.

How that will impact the Red Bulls, let alone NYCFC and the playoffs, is anybody’s guess. Maybe they’ll be worn out and lose to Philadelphia at home instead of beating them. Maybe they’ll take their eye off the Montreal match and drop points there too. That six point swing would give NYCFC a bye in the first round. And could send the Red Bulls to Montreal for a play-in match.

Or maybe it’ll have absolutely no effect whatsoever.

That’s the downside of a race this tight. Every point could be the difference between a bye and hosting a play-in match. Between hosting and going on the road. Between going on the road and sitting on your couch.

But the upside is that NYCFC controls their future. And you don’t need to read the tea leaves to see that.