In a draw against Columbus Crew Wednesday evening, Nashville SC failed to make insane spreadsheet people everywhere just a little bit happier (it would have cut the size of the spreadsheet from 19,683 rows down to a manageable 729 rows). However, the end is in sight. Before getting into the rooting guide, let’s take a look at where the playoff picture stands.
New England is locked in first place (as has been the case for a few weeks now), while Chicago, Cincinnati, and Toronto have been eliminates from the playoff hunt. That leaves 11 Eastern Conference teams vying for six remaining playoff berths, with Nashville SC leading the way.
2. Nashville SC (currently 49 points, max of 61 points)
3. Philadelphia Union (46, max of 58)
4. Orlando City SC (46, max of 58)
5. Atlanta United (43, max of 55)
6. New York Red Bulls (40, max of 55 – five games to play)
7. FC Montréal (42, max of 54)
8. D.C. United (41, max of 53)
9. New York City (41, max of 53)
10. Columbus (38, max of 50)
11. Inter Miami CF (35, max of 47)
As you can see, Nashville is locked ahead of only one team that’s currently still in the playoff hunt, Inter Miami CF. The Herons’ maximum point total (if they were to win each of their remaining four games) is lower than NSC’s current point total.
In order to seal the No. 7 spot, eclipsing* a point total of 54 is the current mark. The best point total that a team finishing in No. 7 can reach is 54, so Nashville needs to get to 55 – that’s six more than the team currently has, so the magic number at this stage is six points.
However, earning points is not the only way to reduce the magic number. The teams currently in positions 3-10 dropping points also makes life a little easier on Nashville, particularly those who are currently in those 5-9 spots. The teams currently in third, fourth, and 10th probably aren’t relevant to the playoff line (though obviously they will be important when it comes to seeding within the playoffs).
* Nashville SC has 11 wins at this stage, and wins are the first tiebreaker. Any team catching Nashville is already on 11 or 12 wins and would have to pass Nashville in that (bad) tiebreaker to draw level in the table. Thus, we’re operating on the assumption that NSC loses any and all tiebreakers).
The next points Columbus drops – any draw or loss – puts the Crew behind Nashville for good (this is why Wednesday’s result is all the more frustrating; eliminating the Crew from the equation would have simplified things greatly, even if Columbus is effectively behind Nashville in all but the craziest scenarios – which involve the Crew winning out while NSC gets only one more point the rest of the regular season).
If we assume New England, Chicago, Cincinnati, Miami, and Toronto lose out – unlikely, at least in the case of the Revs! – Nashville needs the teams in question to drop points against each other. That will happen inevitably, of course, since there are nine remaining games between two teams in the 3-10 slots (Columbus is involved in three of them). The simpler solution would be for New England and the dregs of the East to clean up against Nashville’s competition.
Assuming the opposite, though, even in the 17,683 remaining permutations, a Nashville team that gets to 50 points makes the playoffs in all but 3,278 of them. That’s an 81.4% chance of making the playoffs with just one draw the rest of the year and assuming New England loses out. What I’m saying is it’s all-but official as long as NSC gets one point.
However, if Nashville can take all three from Philly (getting to 52 points), not only would Columbus be unable to catch the Boys in Gold, there’s a chance they’d be able to lock up a playoff berth by the end of Saturday evening.
The rooting guide
Toronto FC > CF Montreal
New England Revolution > Orlando City SC
The obvious ones
If Montreal loses while Nashville wins, the Impact can’t catch NSC. Orlando is not relevant to Nashville sealing a playoff spot this weekend, but obviously the jockeying for positioning within the playoff field is important, particularly if Nashville does seal its entry into the postseason.
Columbus Crew >= New York Red Bulls. Nashville controls its own destiny in passing the Crew this weekend. Even a Columbus draw would make it impossible for them to catch Nashville even in the event of an NSC loss to Philly.
NYCFC == DC United OR DC United > NYCFC. These teams taking points off each other would be ideal. If they draw while Nashville wins, neither would be able to catch the Boys in Gold on points.
Here’s where it gets complicated. The ideal results here are obvious. However, the downstream effects of them don’t jump immediately off the page. The important thing to keep in mind is that some of these teams play against each other, so they can’t all continue to take maximum points. (Not having to include Columbus in this calculation would make life much easier).
DC and New York Red Bulls play next Wednesday, so either one of them gets three points from that game and the other gets zero, or each gets one. Columbus plays Orlando Wednesday, and the same situation applies to those teams (though our preference is that Columbus is already irrelevant by then, while Orlando’s position is more about seeding, rather than making the playoffs). DC and Columbus square off, as do Red Bulls and Montreal next weekend. Red Bulls and Atlanta play the Wednesday leading up to Decision Day. And on Decision Day itself, Montreal/Orlando and NYC/Philly are games where somebody has to drop points.
Because of those interconnections, A Nashville win and any of the above-bolded results this weekend seals NSC as a playoff team. Not enough teams would be able to close the gap on Nashville to see the Boys in Gold finish anywhere lower than 6th in the table (and losing a tiebreaker).
Getting a Nashville win and all of the bolded results would go a very long way toward locking in that No. 2 seed.