League tables lie, and MLS’ is among the least honest. With 19 clubs, one has to sit out every weekend, and even without those bye weeks the league is generally averse to scheduling the season such that clubs’ games played stay roughly even, so ranking by raw points is usually quite misleading. Instead, I’m ordering clubs by their points per game (PPG), which has the added benefit of being able to chart the PPG pace they’ll need over the rest of the season on the same axis.
Hover or click on a club’s crest or bar for a writeup of their place in each race.
The colored boxes represent the PPG that club will need over their remaining matches to compete for that particular objective. Each box spreads over 2 points in the final standings, for example, today (I aim to update this table at least on a weekly basis) the left side of the purple Supporters Shield box represents the pace needed to reach 64 points, the midpoint is 65, and the right side is 66. I’m roughly trying to place the boxes such that the left side represents a 50/50 chance for most clubs, and the right side is at least above 75%, all based on SportsClubStats’ Monte Carlo simulations. Note that the East and West have different point targets for the playoffs (blue) and top three (green), since the two conference’s races are basically independent.
The three races outlined are the most important when considering playoff implications. The Supporters Shield holder gets a CONCACAF Champions League (CCL) spot next year, the top three in each conference get byes to the conference semifinals, and fourth place hosts fifth in one wildcard match, with the winner meeting the top seed in the next round. None of the top three really get an advantage over the others, since the conference semifinals and finals are in home and home format, which neuters home field advantage. Sure, fourth is preferable to fifth because of wildcard hosting, but that’s a small factor in comparison to a bye or a CCL spot.
What we’re left with is a clear indication that the Supporters Shield race is between Seattle and LA, with DC or RSL only able to enter it with a huge rally alongside a stumble from the leaders. Essentially, the West has paired off with a Sounders/Galaxy battle for first, Salt Lake/Dallas grappling for third, and Vancouver/Colorado desperately trying to join those four in the playoffs, at least as the visitors in that wildcard match. Meanwhile, the East is one big jumble, with each club seemingly capable of falling or rising by a couple spots when all is said and done. Except Montreal, who can safely set up shop in the cellar.
The admitted blind spots in all this are schedule strength and tiebreakers. I note wins and goal differential in the writeups that pop up when you select a club in the table, but the specific point targets are conference-wide. A team with three more ties than clubs they are close to (prime example, Chicago, who may well set the MLS single season record for draws) would need to aim one point higher. Meanwhile, I’m not including fixture difficulty, but the PPG pace needed is still highly applicable whether the road to get there is rocky or smooth.
Overall, this should be markedly more helpful than the standard league table, but for other advanced views of MLS races, I highly recommend simulations on Sounder at Heart in their series, “State of the MLS Run In,” as well as on American Soccer Analysis. These sites take a more nuanced approach while projecting for each club, while I can update mine quickly and allow for assessment of all the races at a glance.