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MLS Western Conference Playoff scenarios

On April 9th, 2017, a naive Portland Trail Blazers fan finished watching his team beat the Denver Nuggets in the second-to-last game of the NBA regular season. The Blazers were staring down the third seed in the Western Conference, with a win guaranteeing it. That was about the only thing that made sense.

One sleepless night later, myself and others on NBA Twitter had finally concocted the full scenarios for the entire Western Conference. Mind you, this was with one game remaining. The next day, the NBA released its own version of what we’d already done, and IT WAS WRONG! They replaced it later in the day.

The moral of this story: Playoff scenarios are very, very dangerous territory. They can lead to loss of sleep, extreme hunger, and borderline insanity. However, nothing is more entertaining than knowing exactly who to root for in every single game. It’s a kind of niche knowledge that cannot be replicated, stuck somewhere between pure enjoyment of watching your team win and the lack of satisfaction associated with understanding more about sports than the guy next to you. That’s why I’m here to figure it out for you.


Major League Soccer has a new format for the 2019 playoffs. In short, the top seven teams in each conference get a shot at MLS Cup. To view the whole new format, click here.


Standings via SofaScore

What’s at stake

There are effectively two different groups of teams in the standings: those fighting for position, and those fighting for their playoff lives at all. We’ll call these Groups A and B, respectively.

Group A: Teams in positions two through five have all clinched playoff berths. These four teams are competing over these four spots. They are now jostling for a better seeds and home-field advantage.
Group B: Teams in spots six through nine are not yet guaranteed playoff spots, but they will all finish in these four spots. Two of them are guaranteed safety, and two will be sent home early.

None of the teams in the first group can finish higher than second, and no one from the second group can finish higher than sixth. Also, note some of the questionable runs of form that put these teams in such tough positions.

The matchups

  • Minnesota United @ Seattle Sounders
  • Real Salt Lake @ Vancouver Whitecaps
  • LA Galaxy @ Houston Dynamo
  • San Jose Earthquakes @ Portland Timbers
  • Colorado Rapids @ LAFC
  • Sporting Kansas City @ FC Dallas

How each team can get each spot:

MinnesotaSeattleLA GalaxySalt Lake
2nd– W vs SEA
– D vs SEA + LAG D/L
– W vs MIN
– D vs MIN + LAG D/L
3rd– D vs SEA + LAG W
– L vs SEA + LAG D/L + RSL D/L
– D vs MIN + LAG W
– L vs MIN + LAG D/L + RSL D/L
– W vs HOU + MIN/SEA W– W vs VAN + MIN/SEA W + LAG D/L
4th– L vs SEA + LAG W + RSL D/L
– L vs SEA + LAG D/L + RSL W
– L vs MIN + LAG W + RSL D/L
– L vs MIN + LAG D/L + RSL W
– W vs HOU + MIN/SEA W
– D vs HOU + MIN/SEA D + RSL D/L
– W vs VAN + MIN/SEA D + LAG W
– D vs VAN + LAG L
5th– L vs SEA + LAG W + RSL W– L vs MIN + LAG W + RSL W– L vs HOU + RSL D/L– W vs VAN + MIN/SEA W + LAG W
– D vs VAN + LAG W/D
– L vs VAN

Group A notes:

  • If either Minnesota or Seattle win, they clinch 2nd and the loser can drop as low as 5th
  • LA Galaxy will avoid LAFC’s side of the bracket with a win or draw—which is weird, because Galaxy are the one team that might not fear LAFC
  • The only way Galaxy can lose home-field advantage is if they lose and Salt Lake win
  • Real Salt Lake can draw and still clinch home-field
  • Real Salt Lake can win and still not clinch home-field
PortlandDallasSan JoseColorado
6th– W vs SJE
– D vs SJE + DAL D/L
– W vs SKC + POR D/L– W vs POR + DAL D/LN/A
7th– D vs SJE + DAL W
– L vs SJE + DAL D/L
– W vs SKC + POR W
– D vs SKC + POR/SJE W/D + COL D/L
– L vs SKC + POR W + COL D/L
– W vs POR + DAL W
– D vs POR + DAL L*
– W vs LFC + POR/SJE W + DAL L
– W vs LFC by 2+ goals + POR/SJE D + DAL L*
8th– L vs SJE + DAL W– D vs SKC + SJE W
– L vs SKC + POR/SJE D + COL D/L
– D vs POR + DAL L + COL W by 2+ goals*
– L vs POR + COL D/L
– W vs LFC + SJE W + DAL L
– W vs LFC +
9thN/A– L vs SKC + COL W– L vs POR + COL W– W vs LFC + SJE W/D + DAL W/D
– D/L vs LFC

*= If San Jose and Portland draw and FC Dallas lose, Colorado will overtake San Jose with a two-goal win.

Group B notes:

  • Portland will clinch a playoff spot with a win or draw
  • Portland can still clinch a spot with a loss
  • Dallas can still clinch a spot with a win, draw, or loss
  • San Jose will clinch a spot with a win, although they can still do so with a draw and some help
  • Colorado still has a snowball’s chance in hell at the playoffs if other results fall into place

How do you think the West will shake out? Where will your team finish? Did I get anything wrong? Comment below or argue with me on Twitter (@folkestad3).

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Kevin Nesgoda

This reminds me of the BASEketball playoff scenarios.

Doug Mellon

I can’t believe Colorado is still in this after the start they had to their season.

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