The end of the season approaches. While there are four Eastern Conference teams with just 31 matches played (Charlotte/Columbus and Miami/Orlando will get them caught up next Wednesday), the entire West sits on 32 games played – and two more to go.
Nashville SC hasn’t technically sealed its playoff slot just yet, even if it may feel like a formality (it may very well happen before the Boys in Gold take the field Sunday evening). NSC can also go as far as wrapping up not just an entry into the playoffs, but a home playoff match by the time the dust settles on the weekend.
Let’s break it down.
Where things stand
NSC sits on 47 points, fourth place in the Western Conference. NSC cannot catch LAFC (64 points) or Austin (55 points) with just two games left to play, but has an outside shot at passing FC Dallas (50 points). On the other end of the table, Nashville cannot be caught from behind by San Jose, Houston, Sporting KC, Colorado, Vancouver, or Seattle.
For those keeping track at home, that means Nashville’s range of outcomes is third through eighth in the West, with the teams in play: Dallas, LA Galaxy, Portland, Minnesota, and Real Salt Lake.
The third-place slot gets a home game (and a chance at a second), and avoids LAFC until the conference final. The fourth-place slot gets a home game but a guaranteed matchup with LAFC in the second round. Fifth, sixth, and seventh get into the playoffs, but no home games (barring wild upsets that could see seventh travel to either fifth or sixth in the later rounds).
Since eight teams are out of play for Nashville’s finish in the table, those squads beating teams that occupy the 3-8 slots right now is good!
Colorado over Dallas 2:30 Saturday
A Rapids win at DSG would put a Nashville third-place finish seriously on the table. It would require NSC beating one of Houston or LAFC in the final two matches, and matching or outperforming Dallas’s Decision Day result in the other of those two games.
San Jose over Minnesota 9 Saturday
A Quakes win would put Nashville very close to sealing its finish ahead of Minnesota. A win against Houston or LAFC or results in both of the final two games would be enough, regardless of what MNUFC does on Decision Day.
Real Salt Lake over LA Galaxy 9:30 Saturday
The best rooting choice here is not immediately obvious. An RSL win keeps that team alive to pass NSC in the final table, but it also makes it much more difficult for the Galaxy to do the same (both would be on 46 points, with Nashville yet to play its weekend match). A draw makes it all-but impossible for RSL to ever catch Nashville – the best they could do is reach NSC’s point total, but there wouldn’t be enough runway to make up the goal-differential tiebreaker – but also puts the Galaxy level with Nashville on points (47) and ahead on the tiebreakers (13 wins to Nashville’s 12). For that reason, letting RSL inch closer while preventing the Galaxy from winning anything is in Nashville’s best interest.
LAFC over Portland 2 Sunday
Without getting into feelingsball-y “does this give LAFC the motivation to play for the Supporter’s Shield hosting Nashville on Decision Day,” a loss for Portland makes it very tough for the Timbers to catch NSC no matter what, and even a draw would give Nashville the opportunity to seal its spot ahead with another win (since the tiebreaker is in-hand with 12 wins to Portland’s 11). If you trust NSC to take care of Houston later on Sunday, that’s enough, but better safe than sorry – feelingsball be damned – and go for the LAFC win.
The remaining matches don’t directly affect Nashville:
Vancouver v. Austin 9 Saturday
Vancouver can’t catch Nashville from behind, and Nashville can’t rise to Austin. Since the FC Dallas game is earlier in the day, an Austin win can’t even pop FC Dallas’s balloon of hope for second and sap the motivation for them to win against Colorado.
Sporting KC v. Seattle Sounders 4 Saturday
Neither of these teams can catch Nashville from behind. SKC’s already eliminated from the playoff, and anything other than a win (and a ton of help on the out-of-town scoreboard) eliminates Seattle, as well.
Nashville SC v. Houston 7:30 Sunday
Regardless of what happens elsewhere, a win in this game seals a playoff spot (and pending the help around the country, even a draw could do the same). Houston is pretty bad – has already changed coaches late in the season – and Nashville has a little revenge factor in mind after an early-season embarrassment in the H, as well. The playoff stakes of the game should be all the motivation needed, though.