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Path to the Playoffs: Five Games to Go

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Roscoe Myrick

Major League Soccer has entered into the home stretch of the 2017 season and in the Western Conference, the Portland Timbers are at the head of the pack. Approaching the end of a season that was filled with doubt and turmoil, the boys in green have every chance of returning to the playoffs for the first time since bringing home the MLS Cup in 2015.

Standing between the Timbers and their playoff aspirations are five matches and the whole of the packed-in Western Conference.

What are the Timbers’ odds of making the playoffs?

There are two sites that have been providing the odds on MLS teams making the playoffs in 2017, Nate Silver’s 538 and the long serving Sports Club Stats. Over the course of the season, there have been some disagreements between the two sites over the Timbers likely fate, but at this point both are in agreement: the Timbers have a 99% chance or better of making the playoffs.

Both sites also put the Timbers’ likelihood of getting a bye, and thus skipping the knockout round, at 47%, packed in tightly with Sporting Kansas City, the Seattle Sounders, and the Vancouver Whitecaps. 538 places the Timbers at the head of that pack, with the rest of those sides having a 44-45% chance at a bye; while SCS has Kansas City and Vancouver ahead of the Timbers by a percentage point or two with Seattle in the low forties.

In terms of pure points earned, the Sounders are one point behind the Timbers with one game in hand, the Whitecaps are three points behind the Timbers with three games in hand, and Sporting are also three points behind but with only two games in hand. Rounding out the playoff picture in the West are the Houston Dynamo, six points behind with two games in hand, and FC Dallas, seven points behind with two games in hand.

Of the five sides below the red line, only the San Jose Earthquakes and Real Salt Lake have a better than 1% chance of making the playoffs according to both 538 and SCS.

Who should we be rooting for this week?

Wednesday, September 13th

New England Revolution at Atlanta United

Root for: New England

There is next to no direct impact on the Timbers from this one, so we will have to play the long game and look to the MLS Cup Final. We want point totals to stay as low as possible in the East so the Timbers have some chance of hosting the cup if they make it that far. Also at play is New England’s weekend match against Kansas City and some confidence for the Revolution could go far in helping to break down the Timbers’ rivals for a top seed in the West.

Minnesota United at Vancouver Whitecaps

Root for: Minnesota

This one is pretty straightforward: United is not a threat to the Timbers’ playoff chances. Vancouver is. Also, Vancouver is Vancouver, but somehow worse than normal. (You can probably thank Fredy Montero for that.)

Saturday, September 16th

Orlando City SC at Atlanta United

Root for: Atlanta

This one seems counterintuitive, but with Orlando set to play the Timbers in two weeks we might as well root for Atlanta to put them out of their misery and hope that puts aside any hope of a last second playoff push. SCS gives Orlando a 1% chance of making the playoffs, but it would be great if that could be as close to zero as possible by the 24th.

Columbus Crew at Vancouver Whitecaps

Root for: Columbus

See Wednesday’s Whitecaps match.

Minnesota United at Montreal Impact

Root for: Minnesota

The Timbers do not face United again this year, but the Loons will be taking on Dallas, Houston, Kansas City, and San Jose before the season is over, so let’s root for a sustained run of good form for the expansion side to close out 2017.

Seattle Sounders at FC Dallas

Root for: Dallas

When in doubt, pick against the Sounders, right? A loss for the Timbers’ most bitter rivals is always a good thing and would keep them from gaining ground, but the worry is that Dallas’s remaining schedule is pretty laughable: other than facing Seattle twice, the Hoops will be taking on Minnesota, Orlando, the LA Galaxy, and the Colorado Rapids. Twice. If FC Dallas gets back on track, they could run the table in their final seven matches and prove a real threat to the Timbers with any sort of stumble. Thankfully, four of those matches are on the road and even breaking out of their current eight game skid without a win probably will not be enough for Dallas.

D.C. United at Chicago Fire

Root for: D.C.

Keeping the point totals low in the East remains key in our rooting metric so let’s stick with D.C. here. There is plenty of time for them to fall apart before facing the Timbers on the road in their second to last match of the season, while the Fire will have plenty of time to recover before they (strangely) close out the year with a match against the Houston Dynamo in which we will surely be rooting for them.

New England Revolution at Sporting Kansas City

Root for: New England

SKC bad. There is no upside to rooting for them here (or ever).

Toronto FC at LA Galaxy

Root for: Toronto

Sad though it might be, the Timbers are just not going to catch Toronto. We can all accept that, right? As such, let’s lean into the schadenfreude of LA’s season. A demolition of the Galaxy is always fun to watch.

Houston Dynamo at San Jose Earthquakes

Root for: San Jose

One of two matches this weekend between Western Conference teams with real shots at making the playoffs, this is perhaps the harder to call. The Timbers take on the ‘Quakes before the season is over, but the Dynamo are more likely to challenge for a higher seed in the playoffs. Since the Timbers have a very good chance to stay above the red line, keeping Houston down is the more important goal here and as such we have to cast our lot with (*sigh*) the Earthquakes.

Sunday, September 17th

Philadelphia Union at New York Red Bulls

Root for: Philadelphia

Another marginally impactful match for the Timbers being played out East. We should probably stick to our guns here and hope to keep point totals as depressed as possible in the East. The Union have a late season match against Seattle, while New York faces Vancouver in the final weeks of the season, so any impact on the West could be a wash.


How are you feeling about the Timbers’ playoff chances? Where do you think they will finish the season? How wrong did I get my picks above? Let us know in the comments.