This was a pretty good week for NYC, except for the hopes of winning Supporters’ Shield. Many of the teams chasing NYC played twice, and none won twice, which means they are wasting games. At this point time and the passing of games is an ally. Drawing at RBA was a pretty good result when you consider that all the best scenarios going into this week required that NYC rarely lose and draw 2-3 times. With this game behind us, the toughest games should be Away at Chicago and Montreal.
The big wild card now is the pair of unusual Home games in September. SKC is up next with the Blues holding an extremely depleted roster, and then hosting Houston in East Hartford. NYC has 3 of the next 4 at home, and it needs to build points because after that comes 3 straight Away. Despite being a strong Away team the difference in PPG is a full point: 2.308 at Home against 1.308 Away.
One other odd schedule note: there are only 24 interconference matchups left in MLS this year, NYC figures in 17% of them, and they are the next 4 games in a row.
Montreal’s failure to beat Toronto in Montreal pretty much kills any remaining rational hope for a Supporters’ Shield this year. NYCFC can very well join the short list of teams to get 60 or more points and not win. In fact it is unlikely even to be close. NYC is 9 points back, and has 8 games left. Toronto has 7 left. If NYC wins its extra game, it still has to make up another 6 points on Toronto just to tie. Toronto, however, has lost only 3 times all year. It is hard to see them losing 3 times in their last 7. But let’s try to develop a plausible (or at least possible) if unlikely scenario. Toronto’s worst stretch of 7 games this year was from June 3 to July 22 when they went 3-2-2 for 11 points. Let’s assume they do slightly worse and finish 3-3-1 for 10 points in their last 7. That gives them 66. The Blues must go 6-1-1 to match that, finish with 66 points, and would have 20 wins to 19 for Toronto which wins the first tiebreaker. So that’s it. Toronto has to lose as many times in 7 games as it has in 27 to date and NYC has to win 6 of 8, something it managed to do once in its history, last season. In that stretch the Blue Robber Barons lost the 2 games they did not win so going 6-1-1 has never been done by NYC. Together, this means that Toronto has to have its worst 7 games of the season, and NYC has to have its best 8 games ever. It can happen, but at this point NYCFC is playing for second place in the league, realistically.
Back when Toronto and Chicago were tied for 1st, I wrote that “I don’t think either Toronto or Chicago will finish with 68 points. If they do NYC is not catching them. I do think it will take more than 60 points to win the East (and therefore almost certainly also win the SS). It might even take more than 60 points to finish second.” It seems to have been a mistake to expect Toronto to falter, but but Chicago might not even make 60.
Before playing at Yankee Stadium, seven games ago, Chicago was tied with Toronto for first, piling up 2.0 PPG, and riding an 11-game unbeaten streak. Since then, including the 2-1 loss against NYC, the Fire is reeling. They have only 1 win in 8 games including 4 straight losses now. Two games ago when their streak was 4 losses in 5 I hesitated to pronounce them in freefall. The 4 losses were all away, and although they managed 2 wins and 3 draws Away during the 11 game unbeaten streak, they had the worst Away record among league leaders even before hey stumbled. Prior to the unbeaten streak their Away record was 0-3-2. So their failure to win any Away of 4 games was not surprising, and that they were all losses only slightly unusual. As I explained at the time I always expect a team to play to its record, and winning only 1 game in a stretch of 1H/4A was not out of line with Chicago’s record.
Two games later, Chicago’s fall is clear. You can maybe excuse losing to Toronto at home. TFC is on fire, losing only twice in the last 21 games. But now the Fire have lost to Minnesota in Chicago, handing the Loons their first ever road win and putting Minnesota’s PPG up to 1.0, and we have undeniable evidence that they are not as good as the 2.0 PPG made them seem through 19 games.
The best case you can make now for a Chicago revival is their streakiness.They started at 1.38 PPG through 8 games, then earned 2.46 through the next 11, and sit at 0.43 in the last 7. Schweinstager was a catalyst but not enough to explain singlehandedly the switch that marked the break between their first 2 streaks, and another inexplicable change of fortune could be coming. We could be shocked by another switch to winning again, or a least doing better than losing nearly every game. Their remaining schedule is a rough balance of Home and Away and Easy/Tough opponents. Nikolic had chances against Minnesota before Minnesota scored and just couldn’t finish. A return to form from him could right their course, even if they don’t reach their previous level. Without that and they probably limp into the playoffs.
That in mind, here’s an update on the teams chasing NYC.
- Montreal: Game in hand, 11 points back, H2H in Montreal. The Impact can beat us at home, and win their extra game, and still will be 5 points behind us.
- Dallas FC: 1 in hand, 11 points back. They can the extra game and still will be 8 points trailing.
- Red Bulls: 1 in hand, 8 points back: If they win their extra game, which is hardly a given as it is Away, they still will be 5 points behind us.
- Atlanta: 2 in hand, 11 points back, 8H 2A remaining. They can win both extra games and still will be 5 points back. Downside for NYC: this still leaves them with a favorable 6H 2A in remaining 8 games. If on top of winning all their extra games they also win two extra home game, and all else being equal, they jump ahead of us. That’s a lot going right for them, however.
- Seattle: 5 points back, One fewer game remaining: 4H 3A. Very tough path to catch NYC.
- SKC: 7 points back, Game in hand, 4H 5A: If they win the extra game (at home) they are still 4 back. Also substantially behind on first tie-breaker (Wins).
- Chicago: 6 points back, 4H 4A. No structural schedule advantage. To overtake NYC they have to simply outplayed NYC by 6+ points. If they tie on points, they probably make up the win deficit and have a shot at the GD, where they currently sit 2 back, but if they make up the 6 points that likely comes with the points.
I think the first 2, Montreal and Dallas, are no longer a concern. If they catch NYC it means NYC has a major slump and multiple teams ahead of them also overtake the Blue Notes.* In fact, with the few remaining games NYC’s advantage over all these teams is almost — not quite but almost — as big as the advantage Tronto holds over NYC. The Blues trail TFC by 9 points with a game in hand. The closest teams to NYC are
- five points back with a game in deficit (Seattle) or 2 games in deficit (Columbus)
- six back and even on games (Chicago) or two games in deficit (Portland)
- seven to nine back and a game in hand (SKC, RB, and Vancouver)
- 11 back and 2 games in hand (Atlanta)
It is hard to judge with the uneven schedule but Chicago is probably closest. SKC can jump over Chicago if they win their extra game. Everyone else is probably further back from NYC than NYC is from Toronto. Here’s another way to look at it. Assume NYC slumps, and plays well below its level to date, finishing 3-3-2 (1.375 PPG) and gets 58 points. To meet that and maybe win a tiebreaker:
- Chicago has to go 5-1-2, 2.22 PPG
- SKC has to go 5-1-3, 2.00 PPG
- RB has to go 6-2-1, 2.11 PPG
- Seattle has to go 5-1-1, 2.29 PPG
- Vancouver has to go 6-1-2, 2.22 PPG
- Atlanta has to go 6-0-4 or 7-2-1, 2.20 PPG
- Columbus has to go 5-0-1, 2.67 PPG
Note: 3-2-2 would match NYC’s worst 8 games of the season, from April 23 to May 31, a stretch that included only 3 Home games and featured a 4-game road trip, including the Dallas->RSL->Orlando week.
* Besides all but settling the race for first place, Montreal’s failure to beat Toronto in Montreal also puts the Impact in a tough spot to make the playoffs. They are tied with Atlanta but AU has one extra game to play, and all those home games. Montreal gets to play Toronto twice more in Toronto.Montreal has 3 games in hand on Columbus but is 6 points behind.