One match to rule them all, but which? / by Harrison Crow

By Harrison Crow (@harrison_crow)

Note: you can find all projected game results in the '+Projections' tab. As noted by Matthias on the page certain percentages may not completely line-up with what might be '2014 Playoff/Shield Push' page. This is due to still using xGoals 2.0 on one page and our freshly minted 3.0 on the other.

It's not as if there are a lot of games left. Entering the final weekend there are a total of nine matches stretched across three days and eight possible play-off positions all in flux with one last seed to be decided between two clubs with all the answers to be had at the conclusion of Kansas City and New York, Sunday night, the last regular season match of the season.

It's easy for most pairs of eyes to wander to Saturday afternoon and the game that will determine the Supporter’s Shield winner. The LA Galaxy and Seattle Sounders FC show cased a fun and exciting match last Sunday that built upon the tension and expectations across the league and delivered upon all the hype. Our projection system has LA with the disadvantage needing an out and out win on the road in Century Link for a chance at the Supporter's Shield. They currently sit with a win projected at near 25%.

The game may have silverware implications but aside from that it’s arguably the least vital to the MLS Cup hopes of the club and it's supporters. As the season comes to a close either clubs will end up in first or second place with neither holding true a place of leverage in the playoff scheme.

If the afternoon is the least impacting, the evening match brings us the most over reaching match that could be the difference between having to play an extra match to reach the MLS Cup final for one team and, alternatively, could decide the playoff fate between another two. FC Dallas plays host to the Portland Timbers as they are hoping to leap frog RSL for the third spot and out of the play-in round. Portland is hoping for... well, anything to keep their playoff hopes alive. This match heavily favors ‘The Hoops’ with home win with a whopping 55% of the outcome.

Portland will need more than just a win against Dallas. The Rose City will be hoping their Cascadia rival, Vancouver, will drop points at home against Colorado later that night. The Whitecaps have the lead for the fifth spot with a point advantage where a win at home would clinch the fifth seed and a chance at Salt Lake or Dallas Wednesday or Thursday night. Vancouver is another high home favorite with 55% chance of a win and a 26% chance at a draw, which would indicate a very high chance that they will end up in their 2nd playoff berth in three seasons.

Out in the Eastern Conference the biggest matches come on Sunday with the first of two is between the newly rebooted Columbus Crew and the Philadelphia Union. Both of which are two of my favorite clubs out east and both for similar reasons (largely, their player acquisition and appraisal methods). It’s the only game this week that we have the road team with the favorable slant but, not by much. Our projection system is at a near three way tie (citing: hwin 30%, awin 39%, draw 31%) between the possible outcomes. It should be a fun match to watch and if nothing else it could build on to some excitement to the final match of the season.

Finally, Sporting has had an uncanny up and down season. One that doesn’t really represent what our numbers tend to believe about them. Those numbers still indicate them to be an elite, top tier club. While, in reality, we've seen them appear to be slipping further and further away from their once lofty perch atop the Eastern Conference. Time will only tell if this is because of bad luck or a change that has quite propagated to our seasonal numbers.

This weekend SKC will need either Columbus to lose or gain an equal amount of points to retain their third place position and a chance of avoiding a dangerous play-in game with the same New York Red Bulls they host Sunday. Again, our metric loves Kansas City, like, a lot. I’ve long said that I don’t trust KC at home as they’ve had a propensity for losing matches in preposterous sorts of ways.

Oh, and I hadn't noticed until now but there is a slight. Again, let me re-emphasize, a SLIGHT chance that through a comedy of errors that New York could still end up with that Third season surpassing both Columbus and Sporting both. Now we have that only at a 2% possibility but the fact is that it could still happen which makes this all the more entertaining.

There are a lot of really good games this weekend and while everyone is tuning into College Football or the NFL, there are games that really matter to a lot of fans and a lot of cities. It’s not just about one team winning an elusive trophy or another cementing their legacy in MLS history. Its about eight clubs holding onto their hats as the card deck gets shuffled one last time before the playoff deal and the start of the second season.