With the MLS regular season at the two-thirds mark, eight points separate 12 clubs in the Supporters’ Shield race. (Shhh, don’t you dare mention a single table, or the board of governors will come after you with sticks.)
In the interest of heated playoff races and the SS prize, this is a positive development. Only three of 19 teams have abandoned postseason hopes: Toronto FC, Chivas USA and D.C. United.
On the flip side, there are no great teams or villains this year. With its big payroll and two consecutive championships, Los Angeles comes closest to fitting the description. Maybe New York too. And Seattle has drawn envy and ire after the Clint Dempsey signing. But at the moment, the Galaxy is barely in the playoffs, the Red Bulls have been dogged by inconsistency and the Sounders are seven points off the first-place pace in the West.
Only one of 19 clubs has won half of its matches: Real Salt Lake, the West’s surprise leader, with 12 victories in 24 outings.
The four playoff teams are set: FC Kansas City, Western New York Flash, Sky Blue FC and Portland Thorns. What needs to be sorted out are the playoff pairings and home-field advantage. Each club will complete the schedule against non-playoff opponents.
Here’s how it looks:
Kansas City 38 points (home vs. Chicago on Sunday)
Western NY 35 points (home vs. Boston on Saturday)
Portland 35 points (at Seattle on Saturday)
Sky Blue 35 points (at Washington on Sunday)
The first tiebreaker is head-to-head results, followed by goal difference and goals scored.
The league’s website breaks down all of the possible scenarios. (Quiz later.)
In the third-division USL Pro, two clubs have soared above all others: Richmond Kickers (14-1-9) and Orlando City (15-3-6). And with two matches remaining, the teams are tied for first place with 51 points apiece. They will collide Wednesday night at City Stadium in Richmond.
At stake is home-field advantage throughout the eight-team playoffs, which commence Aug. 24 with four single-game quarterfinals. (The semis and final are also single matches.)
Richmond won the first meeting between the sides, in Florida in June. The first tiebreaker is head to head, so another victory Wednesday would clinch first place, regardless of how the teams fare in their respective finales this weekend.
Both clubs have benefited from the first-year loan partnership between USL and MLS — Richmond is affiliated with D.C. United, Orlando with Sporting Kansas City.
All but one of the playoff berths have been settled. [Complete breakdown here]
On the bottom of the standings, a last bit of drama will play out: Antigua Barracuda will attempt to avoid losing every match this year. The club, which represents the tiny Caribbean nation, is 0-24-0 with an 84-10 goal deficit while playing every game on the road. It will conclude the campaign at playoff-bound Charleston (12-7-6) and playoff-contending Wilmington (9-11-4).