If you bet on MLS, you’re probably broke. You also might be tempted to take out a loan and put some money down on Toronto FC and the Seattle Sounders meeting again in early December. The MLS playoffs are random, unpredictable and cruel. But momentum matters, experience can make a difference and there certainly aren’t two teams at the moment who look more like championship contenders than last year’s finalists.
The chatter surrounding TFC has moved past the Supporters' Shield and into “best regular season of all time” territory (see below). Last year’s MLS Cup heartbreak could have led the Reds to devalue the regular season. But it’s had the opposite effect. They want to win everything. After last weekend’s 3-1 win at Chicago, which had been unbeaten at Toyota Park, TFC is four points ahead of New York City FC with nine games left (including three against Montreal).
"I think all the other teams are going to fight for the second spot and Toronto will win the league,” NYCFC coach Patrick Vieira told reporters. “I think you see it [in Chicago]. They are quite really strong and I don't think anybody will catch them."
Toronto captain Michael Bradley spelled out the Shield’s importance after beating Chicago.
"We wanted to send out a message across the league that said that the Supporters' Shield means a lot to us," Bradley added. "We are giving everything we have to win it and we are going to go for it every time we step on the field."
The Sounders may not be in Shield contention, but they showed in 2016 that being in form at the right time is what really matters. And they’re doing it again. Last year’s run to the title began in August. This season Seattle found its form a bit earlier and now is 6-0-1 since the start of July. And Clint Dempsey is healthy this time.
There are no guarantees, of course. But with another “Rivalry Week” around the corner, TFC and Seattle have emerged as the teams to beat.
Here's how the league currently stacks up:
1. Toronto FC
Only two teams have reached the two-points-per-game plateau since MLS dropped the shootout ahead of the 2000 season, and TFC now is on pace to become the third. It it manages 20 points over its final nine games (not easy), Toronto will pass the 2001 Miami Fusion (RIP) and set the all-time mark. Thanks to Soccer America for doing the math.
2. New York City FC
Jonathan Lewis’s second straight game-winner came in far more dramatic fashion than the first, as the 20-year-old forward converted in the 94th minute to lift NYCFC over New England. The Bronx Blues have won three in a row and are now five points above third-place Chicago.
3. Seattle Sounders
Clint Dempsey’s stoppage-time penalty kick, which dispatched a spirited Minnesota United side on Sunday, was his 11th goal of the MLS season and sixth in his past five starts. And to think the Sounders won it all without him last year.
4. Sporting Kansas City
Sporting has the best defense in MLS—no surprise. But it was a bit odd that Peter Vermes’ stout squad hadn’t posted a shutout in seven league games. That streak ended Saturday as SKC dominated possession and got goals from Diego Rubio and Gerso Fernandes in a 2-0 win over visiting Dallas.
5. Atlanta United FC
Atlanta is unbeaten in six (4-0-2) but has been idle for more than two weeks. On Wednesday’s docket—it’s unexpected first-year nemesis, the team that owns United in more ways than one, last-place D.C. The capital club has beaten Atlanta twice this season by a combined 5-2 score.
6. New York Red Bulls
New York’s long-term focus should be on staying/getting healthy for the playoffs and winning the U.S. Open Cup next month. But short term, it’ll really, really want to avoid losing three in a row—each MLS meeting—to NYCFC. The Red Bulls can even the season series (including an Open Cup win) Friday in Harrison.
7. Montreal Impact
The league’s longest winning streak now belongs to Montreal, which has surged up the East table (and the power rankings) with four straight victories. MLS’s most under appreciated superstar, Ignacio Piatti, has been superb, scoring six goals during the four-match run.
8. Houston Dynamo
The loss in Vancouver was Houston’s first in seven games. Coach Wilmer Cabrera rotated his squad, however, ahead of a week that should tell us something about whether Houston is really ready to contend: Wednesday at Dallas (the Dynamo have only one road win) then home Saturday against SKC.
9. Portland Timbers
Diego Valeri has goals in four consecutive games for Portland, which is showing signs of life (a 3-1-1 run) toward the end of a moribund summer. The reeling Rapids visit Wednesday before Sunday’s showdown with the champion Sounders in Seattle.
10. Chicago Fire
The Fire have cooled considerably, now losers of three in a row and five of their past six. Chicago will have the chance to reverse the slide Saturday in its first meeting with potential regional rival Minnesota. The clubs never met in the Open Cup during the Loons’ USL/NASL days.
11. Real Salt Lake
Saturday’s loss in Montreal was resurgent RSL’s first in seven games. Mike Petke’s team remains only five points out of the playoff places but the runway is short. Opponents have games in hand. A plus—four of RSL’s next five are at Rio Tinto.
12. Vancouver Whitecaps
MLS’s most consistently inconsistent team is hanging on to the West’s final playoff berth and hosts Seattle Wednesday. A healthy Yordy Reyna now has two goals in three starts and gives the ‘Caps an additional attacking option.
13. FC Dallas
This officially is no longer the team that won the Shield and Open Cup last year. Now FCD has lost three of four for the first time in 15 months and its scored just one goal over those four games. Houston and Columbus are on deck this week.
14. San Jose Earthquakes
Chris Wondolowski’s stoppage-time equalizer against Philadelphia made him the first player to score double-digit goals in eight straight MLS seasons. That’ll be a fun stat to bring up when he’s polling at 45% in the National Soccer Hall of Fame vote.
15. Columbus Crew SC
Goalkeeper Zack Steffen helped Columbus, which has just one win its past five, salvage a point in Orlando with seven saves. The Crew play their next three games in Ohio at Mapfre Stadium.
16. New England Revolution
Despite three wins in five games, the Revs remain 10th in the East and seven points out of the playoff places. But they were seconds away from a point in NYC and have winnable games coming up against D.C. and Orlando.
17. Philadelphia Union
Philly’s season will depend on how it rebounds from an agonizing draw in San Jose. The Union were seconds away from their second road win. Now they’re back on the road for three of their next four games, starting Wednesday at Toronto.
18. Minnesota United FC
Ethan Finlay scored the go-ahead goal on his United debut, but Minnesota couldn’t build on that with Christian Ramirez (hamstring) out injured. The effort and organization may be something to build on, however, as it heads to Chicago.
19. D.C. United
It took a ridiculous, all-time own goal in Colorado to end it, but D.C.’s eight-game winless run is over. Now to further integrate Paul Arriola, Russell Canouse and Zoltan Stieber as the clock on RFK Stadium winds down.
20. Orlando City SC
Orlando is 0-4-2 since the beginning of July and its playoff hopes are fraying. Dom Dwyer came on as a substitute against Columbus and is still looking for his first goal after three appearances for the Lions.
21. Colorado Rapids
Teams often raise their game immediately following a coach’s firing, but the problems in Commerce City won’t be solved by motivation alone. Losing at home to a D.C. side that had the league's worst record thanks to a comedic own goal MLS looks to be rock bottom.
22. LA Galaxy
If Monday’s total eclipse wasn’t a sign of the apocalypse, perhaps the Galaxy at the foot of the power rankings is. But it’s warranted. LA is 0-7-1 over its past eight and this week said goodbye to center back Jelle Van Damme, who returned to his native Belgium.