MLS Playoffs Outcomes and Probabilities / by Matthias Kullowatz

There remain many races for playoff positioning—Real Salt Lake and FC Dallas for the 3-seed, the entire Eastern Conference for every seed—so let’s break all that down. Based on each team's shot rates and finishing rates, we've created some charts that show which teams are likely to finish in which seeds, followed by a summary of outcomes for the key fifth-place and Supporters’ Shield battles.

Team Playoffs1 Playoffs2 Playoffs3 Playoffs4 Playoffs5 Supporters1 Playoffs
DCU 0.983 0.015 0.002 0.000 0.000 0.000 1.000
NE 0.009 0.538 0.346 0.104 0.002 0.000 1.000
SKC 0.008 0.376 0.430 0.163 0.024 0.000 1.000
NYRB 0.000 0.060 0.139 0.407 0.394 0.000 1.000
CLB 0.000 0.011 0.083 0.326 0.569 0.000 0.990
TOR 0.000 0.000 0.000 0.000 0.010 0.000 0.010

Team Playoffs1 Playoffs2 Playoffs3 Playoffs4 Playoffs5 Supporters1 Playoffs
LA 0.504 0.496 0.000 0.000 0.000 0.504 1.000
SEA 0.496 0.504 0.000 0.000 0.000 0.496 1.000
RSL 0.000 0.000 0.691 0.309 0.000 0.000 1.000
FCD 0.000 0.000 0.309 0.672 0.019 0.000 1.000
VAN 0.000 0.000 0.000 0.019 0.686 0.000 0.705
POR 0.000 0.000 0.000 0.000 0.295 0.000 0.295
The small differences between the probabilities in this chart and those on our Playoff Push page can be attrbuted to the 95% margin of error of up to one percent due to simulation randomness.

Western Conference Hot Races

For the fifth spot in the West, Portland’s only advantage is that it would almost surely hold the tiebreaker if it comes down to that. Both teams would finish with the same number of wins—the first tiebreaker—and Portland’s +7 goal differential is currently well ahead of Vancouver’s +1 for the second tiebreaker. That said, there are still more outcomes that favor Vancouver with its one-point lead and arguably easier schedule.

Vancouver gets the 5-seed if it…

…wins both, and FC Dallas doesn’t lose both its games.

…wins and draws, and Portland doesn’t win both its games.

…wins and loses, and Portland gets fewer than four points.

…draws both, and Portland doesn’t win either of its games.

…draws and loses, and Portland manages one draw at best.

…loses both, and Portland loses both.

Vancouver gets the 4-seed if it wins both, and FC Dallas loses both of its final games.

The Supporters’ Shield features two teams that are currently tied at 60 points apiece, and will also be playing a home-and-home series to end the season. Though Seattle holds the wins tiebreaker, our model likes LA better as a team.

Seattle wins the Supporters’ Shield if it…

…wins both games.

…wins and draws.

…wins and loses.

…draws both games.

Eastern Conference Hot Races

For the fifth spot in the East, Toronto FC needs a small miracle. Toronto will make the playoffs if it wins both its games, and if Columbus also loses both of its games. Though Toronto hosts its first game against one of the East’s weakest teams, Montreal, it still needs to beat New England on the road, and Columbus would have to lose to New York and Philadelphia. While each of those things is very possible by itself, it’s a real long shot for all of them to happen.

As for the number one seed out East, it's just about wrapped up. But here's how it shakes out.

D.C. United wins the East if it gets at least one point from its final two matches.

New England wins the East if it wins both its games and DCU loses both of its games.

Sporting Kansas City wins the East if it wins both its games, DCU loses both its games, New England doesn't win both its games, and Sporting scores two more goals than DCU over those two games. Sporting may not need to score those two extra goals if its goal differential beats DCU's by more than four over the final two games. Note that it's impossible for Sporting to win twice, DCU to lose twice, and for the resulting goal differential disparity to be less than four.