As we approach the dramatic conclusion to the 2016 MLS regular season, it’s time to look at which teams are on the fringes of the playoff picture. In the Eastern Conference, the New England Revolution find themselves just three points behind the Philadelphia Union for the coveted sixth-seed. In the west, the reigning champion Portland Timbers sit two points behind Sporting Kansas City for the final spot. You have to look all the way back to 2012 to see the last time both of these sides finished outside of the top six, and with the talent they have on the roster now, it would be a major disappointment for either club to miss out on the post-season.
Starting off with the Revs, their final two matches of the season pit them against a fellow Eastern Conference playoff contender in the Montreal Impact, and the worst team in the league, the Chicago Fire. They’ve faced these two sides a combined five times and have racked up a 4-1 record, including a perfect 3-0 record against the Fire. Luckily for Jay Heaps’ side, their tougher matchup against Montreal will be played in the friendly confines of Gillette Stadium.
At home, the Revs have been leaps and bounds better than they have been on the road. Through 16 home matches, New England have grabbed eight wins, and four draws. In those fixtures, they’ve allowed just 19 goals, while scoring 23. Compare this to their away form. In that same amount of time, New England have won just twice. They’ve allowed 33 goals (an average of more than two per game), and they’ve managed just 17 goals of their own. One of those away wins actually came against the Impact last month.
Currently, New England have the second worst goal differential in the league with -12 (the only team with a worse one is Chicago with -16). While it would be easy to toss that up to porous defensive play (only one team in the East has allowed more goals), their attack has been anything but prolific this season. Through 32 games, they’ve scored just 40 goals. In the East, only one team (surprise, it’s Chicago) has scored less. As of late, however, the Revs have experienced a little bit of an offensive revival. In their last six matches, they’ve scored 13 times. In three of those matches they found the back of the net three times.
For me, the player to watch up front has to be mid-season signing Kei Kamara. The former Sporting KC/Columbus Crew striker has scored twice in his last two games, and currently sits tied for the team lead in goals with six (he has 11 on the season). Last year with the Crew, Kamara proved to be a clutch player in crunch time scoring four goals in the playoffs. His form could very well determine whether or not the Revs can push ahead of the Union into the playoffs.
Now to the Timbers, where things haven’t gone exactly to plan during their title defending campaign. A tumultuous start to the season saw them win two of their opening eight matches. This slow start is a big reason why they currently sit on the wrong side of the playoff picture. In terms of record, the only thing separating Portland from Kansas City is one match. If Portland would’ve won any of the games that they tied, they would be even with Sporting on points.
Sadly for fans in the Northwest, that isn’t the case.
Going into the final two matches of the season, Caleb Porter’s side will host Tim Howard and the Colorado Rapids who currently sit second in the West. Then, they will conclude their regular season with a trip to Vancouver to play a Whitecaps side that has already been mathematically eliminated from playoff contention. Oh yeah, and in between those two must-win league matches is a must-win CONCACAF Champions League match at home against Saprissa.
This hectic finish to the season doesn’t get any better for Timbers fans when you look at their history against these three clubs. In the five times they’ve faced off against this opposition, Portland has won just once. When they traveled to Colorado earlier in the month, they left empty handed after a 1-0 loss. Their recent form is anything but consistent (4 wins, 4 losses). You have to go all the way back to August to find the last time they strung back-to-back wins together.
It’s important to point out that neither of these two sides control their own destiny when it comes to making the playoffs. Even if they both won both of their matches, there’s a chance that it won’t be good enough to push them into the number six slot on the table. New England and Portland both have to hope that Philadelphia and Kansas City drop points, but if they don’t, these two clubs will be enjoying their offseason a little bit earlier than they were planning.
If I had to pick one side that I think will defy the odds and make it to the postseason, I would pick New England. The main reason behind that is their lack of continental competition. Jay Heaps doesn’t have to worry about conserving some of his players for a Champions League fixture. He can focus all of his attention on making the playoffs. Also, the Philadelphia Union face a tough test against a conference-leading New York Red Bulls side to close out the season.