Your Monday Kickoff: Big questions as the playoff picture starts to come together


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What you need to know

Midweek games on the way:

The last true slate of midweek games this season starts tomorrow with five games on Tuesday and four on Wednesday (plus a Campeones Cup match between NYCFC and Liga MX champions Atlas). Highlights include Tuesday’s matchup between Minnesota United and LAFC at 8 p.m. ET on MLS LIVE on ESPN+, and Wednesday meetings between Orlando City and Atlanta plus Austin and RSL. See the full schedule here.

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Assorted questions from the weekend that was

Can NYCFC miss the playoffs?

Dear reader, they sure can. Every team below them either has a game or two in hand and NYCFC are one of the single worst teams in MLS right now. It would take a spectacular run from New England or Inter Miami from below the line to make it happen, but the fact it’s even in play should horrify everyone in the Bronx. 

If NYCFC lose out, they’ll be on 46 points. If the eighth-place Revs win three of their last four games—totally plausible considering those four games are Houston, Montréal (already locked down a playoff spot), Atlanta and Chicago — they’ll be on 47 points. Seventh-place Columbus would need just two wins over their last five, sixth-place Cincy would need five points over their last four games, and Orlando would need five points over their final five games. 

We’re not far from the timeline where this all goes down exactly as described because, my goodness, are NYCFC struggling right now. They’ve lost seven of their last ten and won just once in that span. Their 1-0 loss to Charlotte this weekend after the expansion side went down to 10 men in the 56th minute was particularly horrifying. They’re flailing to the extent that “Talles Magno, false-ish nine” has become a thing they’re doing. And now they’ve got to finish the season against the Red Bulls, Orlando and Atlanta. 

Now, the good news is that Keaton Parks made a substitute appearance against Charlotte. Parks had been out since late June and his absence has been a critical factor in NYCFC’s collapse. If anyone can steady the ship… it’s Taty Castellanos suddenly returning out of nowhere. But Parks can also be a huge factor over the final three games and whatever playoff games are yet to come. 

If they’re going to come at all. I’m just saying.

Is Seattle going to do this?

I’m sure everyone in the West noticed that Seattle put a beating on Austin this weekend. The Sounders are a horror movie monster right now. Everyone is telling themselves they’re dead, but no one truly believes it. Any sign of life is going to send everyone into a quiet panic. 

After Saturday’s win, Seattle are just four points behind seventh-place RSL, and one point behind the Galaxy, who have a game in hand. As of now, Seattle have one more win than both teams, which means they hold the first tiebreaker in the event of a tie in the standings. The task here isn’t impossible. They just need to be four points better than RSL and LA the rest of the way. 

Again, that’s not impossible, but it isn’t easy either. Still, folks, what if I told you Seattle’s final four games came against Vancouver, Cincinnati, SKC and San Jose? Obviously, Cincy are a handful, but those other three are extremely winnable. If they take three out of four from that stretch, that’s 48 points. 48 points is almost definitely going to be enough to get above the line. 

If I’m LA, RSL or even Minnesota right now, I’m checking over my shoulder at every opportunity to see how close the monster is getting. And I probably don’t like what I see, especially if Seattle really have found a way to finally get the midfield sorted out with Josh Atencio and Danny Leyva in a double pivot. It seems like they might have. That should worry everyone in the West, even if they won’t admit it yet. Like I said, quiet panic.

Should Chicharito take penalties?


Can FC Cincinnati win MLS Cup?

Absolutely. All it takes is to get hot at the right time and Cincy have had that capability all season. They pummeled San Jose this weekend and have consistently created a ton of chances all season. On top of that, the defense kind of seems like it’s getting sorted out? Maybe a little?

They haven’t allowed more than two goals in a game since July 30 and they’ve only allowed four goals in their last five games. With the kind of firepower they have, you don’t have to be perfect defensively. You just have to keep yourself from being catastrophically bad. Have they done enough to keep that from happening for sure in the playoffs? Probably not. But it’s not a guarantee they’ll implode either. With this group, that’s enough to give them a chance.

Is Austin going to finish anywhere but second? 

In the same way it seemed like a lock for LAFC to win the Shield and break the points record a few weeks ago, Austin’s vice grip on the second spot in the West has almost faded. Maybe they’re just testing out new tactical tweaks before the playoffs come? Maybe both teams got complacent? Maybe that’s partly Big Soccer Media’s fault for talking about how good they are too much? In particular Tom Bogert who can be found @TomBogert on Twitter and told me the other day Austin barbeque has nothing on New Jersey barbeque while doing a “Horns Down” gesture? 

No matter what the reason is, Austin are in genuine danger of losing the second spot in the West. They’re still two points ahead of FC Dallas and have a game in hand, but FC Dallas are playing their best ball of the season right now. They’ve won four of their last six and took down LAFC over the weekend. Austin have lost three straight and face RSL and Nashville this week. Things could get very, very interesting heading into the international break. 

That being said, a little pressure at the end of the season might not be the worst thing. It might be the kind of wake-up call the Verde and Black needed heading into the playoffs. Instead of cruising across the finish line they’ll have to ramp back up on the throttle. It could be a blessing in disguise. Sometimes it’s hard to get things up and running at full speed once you’ve slowed down.

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Good luck out there. Outshine other stars.

Your Monday Kickoff: Big questions as the playoff picture starts to come together

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