Red Bull Arena hosts a crucial game this weekend. Tim Sullivan/Club and Country
We’ve come to the time of the season where we get one of these… well, after basically every game. NSC sealed its berth in the playoffs Wednesday evening, but the Boys in Gold can be as high as No. 2 and still as low as No. 7. So let’s take a look at those scenarios, and wrap up with the rooting guide.
Where things stand
Nashville SC currently stands in second in the Eastern Conference: New England’s MLS-record season has already wrapped up the top seed, while Nashville is sealed ahead of Cincinnati, Toronto, Chicago, Miami, and DC United, while only one of New York Red Bulls and CF Montreal can pass NSC with a perfect finish. NSC sits on a two-point gap over Philadelphia Union and six over Atlanta United – the Five Stripes have a game in-hand, so are in better shape than No. 6 currently appears to be – and is therefore in full control of staying there. Win both remaining games, and you finish at least two points clear of third.
However, if Nashville doesn’t win both games, getting caught from behind is possible, even likely. As mentioned at the top, there’s even a way to finish in the No. 7 spot (albeit literally one scenario out of 729 relevant permutations). How do we get to 729 permutations? Assuming the teams out of range for Nashville lose out to those who can still catch NSC, there are six games of note remaining, and three possible outcomes in each of them. Thus, 729 permutations.
A loss to Orlando City keeps the nightmare scenario (Orlando and New York Red Bulls win out – each including a win over Nashville – as does NYCFC, while Philly beats Cincinnati and Atlanta beats both Cincy and Toronto, so all finish ahead of Nashville) alive. Even with a loss, that very specific scenario is a 1/243 chance (0.4%), or even lower if you don’t assume the Cincy and TFC losses.
Here’s the full table of finishes based upon Nashville finish:
|Result v. ORL||2nd||3rd||4th||5th||6th||7th|
As you can see, even with a loss to Orlando, Nashville is far more likely than not to host a playoff game. Getting a single point against the Lions makes it a near guarantee.
Of course, several games this weekend happen before Nashville takes the field against Orlando City. Nashville can take the Exploria Stadium field knowing the outcomes of three relevant contests from Saturday. If there are two upsets (Miami over or equal to NYC, Toronto over Atlanta) and a draw (Montreal v. Red Bulls), the worst Nashville could do would be fifth, and a draw would be enough to seal third place (with Atlanta maxing out on 52 points, and the draw against NSC preventing OSCSC from having the ability to catch the Boys in Gold).
To seal fourth place with a draw, any one of the three results listed above would suffice.
We’ve talked through it a bit here, but to put in simple terms:
Miami >= New York City FC – 12:30 p.m. Saturday
Any NYCFC dropped points see the Pigeons finish behind Nashville SC.
New York Red Bulls == CF Montreal – 3 p.m. Saturday
If this game has clear result, the loser is permanently behind Nashville SC. However, if the sides draw, they’re both going to be unable to pass Nashville.
Atlanta < Toronto FC – 5 p.m. Saturday
An Atlanta loss doesn’t guarantee a finish behind Nashville. But it does put the Boys in Gold a single point in the final two games away from sealing their place ahead of the Five Stripes.
Nashville SC to beat Orlando – 3 p.m. Sunday
Obvs. Stakes broken down in detail above.
Philadelphia < FC Cincinnati – 6:30 p.m. Sunday
Well. Can’t have legitimate hope in all the results Nashville would like to see, I guess.
There are also a few Western Conference games of note: if Nashville beats New England to advance to MLS Cup and the Western Conference participant has a worse record, the championship game could very well be in Music City. Of course, rooting for SKC to lose three straight to end the year, or Seattle to lose two in a row (as would be necessary for NSC to catch either on points) isn’t even enough, since Nashville can’t catch either of them on tiebreakers.
Thus, Colorado Rapids (currently three points ahead of Nashville) and Portland Timbers (three behind) are the primary antagonists here, with Vancouver Whitecaps (five points back), LA Galaxy (six), and Real Salt Lake (seven, but with a game in-hand) also not our closest chums.
Real Salt Lake < San Jose Earthquakes – 2:30 p.m. Saturday
RSL drawing here would mean they need to win the last two while Nashville loses both to catch NSC – so it’s not the worst outcome – but a loss would prevent catching up to Nashville. Plus we’d get to see Wondo win.
Houston Dynamo > Colorado Rapids – 2 p.m. Sunday
A Rapids loss and Nashville SC win would have the Boys in Gold caught up on points, with a chance to complete the pass (Colorado has the tiebreaker advantage) on Decision Day.
Seattle Sounders >= LA Galaxy – 9 p.m. Monday
Any dropped points for the Galaxy would put Nashville ahead for good.
LAFC >= Vancouver Whitecaps – 9:30 p.m. Tuesday
Weird pacing of games here, so maybe there’ll be another of these posts before the game takes place. But anything less than perfect for Vancouver to close the year seals a finish worse than Nashville.
Timbers don’t play this weekend.