Playoff Math: Sporting KC atop the West two weeks from Decision Day

Temperatures are dropping, but Sporting Kansas City is heating up as the regular season races toward its grand finale with MLS Decision Day 2020 presented by AT&T in two weeks time on Sunday, Nov. 8.

No team has more wins (4) or points (13) than Sporting KC in the month of October and following an emphatic 4-0 victory over the Colorado Rapids on Saturday at Children's Mercy Park, Sporting now sits atop the Western Conference table in first place.

In our second edition of Playoff Math, SportingKC.com takes a closer look at the standings—as they stand today and as they could change in the next fortnight—as a regular season unlike any other comes to a close with a frantic finish of 24 games involving Western Conference clubs scheduled to take place in the next 14 days.

Let's start with the simple part of the Playoff Math equation and briefly set the stage with what's at stake for Sporting KC:

  • The top eight teams in the West will secure a spot in the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs, which will be played in single-elimination matchups.
  • The top four teams in the West will have home field advantage in the postseason's opening round (1v8, 2v7, 3v6 and 4v5).
  • The top team in the West will qualify for the Concacaf Champions League, the region's premier international competition for clubs from North America, Central America and the Caribbean.

From there, well, it gets complicated. Five Western Conference matches involving the Colorado Rapids are currently postponed, including a matchup with Sporting Kansas City originally scheduled for Sept. 27 but later moved to Oct. 21, as well as a Western Conference match between FC Dallas and Minnesota United. Major League Soccer announced on Oct. 12 that the league is evaluating options for rescheduling the impacted matches, however a decision has not yet been announced.

So before we bust out our abacus-assisted arithmetic, we must provide the following disclaimer. It's 2020. The regular season schedule is subject to change pending any future match postponements or rescheduled fixtures.

But as the schedule currently exists today, the regular season is slated to conclude on Nov. 8 with the 12 teams in the Western Conference having played an unequal number of matches. Colorado is scheduled to play 18 total matches. The remainder of the conference is scheduled to play either 22 matches or 23 matches.

So how will MLS determine the top eight teams in the West? There are two presumptive options: total points as used by Major League Soccer for 23 of the previous 24 seasons, or points per game as used by Major League Soccer in the shortened 2001 campaign.

On a conference call with media in August, MLS Commissioner Don Garber said: "If we have to postpone a match or cancel a match and we’re not able to reschedule it, we’re going to have to go to applying the points per match as opposed to total points in determining how we’re going to play our playoffs and qualify for those playoffs."

Let's examine both scenarios.

SCENARIO ONE: TOTAL POINTS

If no additional games are added to the Western Conference schedule, Sporting Kansas City has already secured a top-eight finish in the Western Conference based on total points. Colorado, Houston and Real Salt Lake can not catch Sporting KC as all have fewer maximum points than Sporting KC's current total. San Jose can equal Sporting KC with 33 points, however can not pass Sporting KC in the standings as the first tiebreaker is wins. San Jose would finish with nine victories to Sporting Kansas City's 10 wins in that scenario.

Team Points Wins Games Played Games Left Max Points
SKC 33 10 19 3 or 4 42 or 45
SEA 32 9 18 4 or 5 44 or 47
POR 32 9 19 4 44
MIN 27 7 18 4 or 5 39 or 42
LAFC 25 7 18 4 or 5 37 or 40
DAL 25 6 18 4 or 5 37 or 40
VAN 24 8 20 3 33
SJ 24 6 20 3 33
RSL 22 5 19 3 or 4 31 or 34
HOU 21 4 20 3 30
COL 19 5 14 4 to 9 31 or 46
LA 18 5 17 5 or 6 33 or 36

But what if the postponed matches are rescheduled? As of now, Sporting KC would need one more point this season to be assured of a top-eight finish in the Western Conference. A single draw would lift Sporting KC to 34 points, a point total that could not be reached by Houston, San Jose or Vancouver. Real Salt Lake's maximum points would be 34 points—again, in the scenario that their postponed match with Colorado is rescheduled—however their maximum wins would be nine, one fewer than Sporting KC's current 10 victories for tie-breaking purposes.

SCENARIO TWO: POINTS PER GAME

If no changes are made to the remaining schedule, Sporting Kansas City has also secured a top-eight finish in the Western Conference based on points per game. Sporting's minimum points per game is 1.5 (33 points from 22 games). Four teams—Houston, Real Salt Lake, San Jose and Vancouver—have maximum points per game lower than 1.5.

Team Points Games Played Points Per Game Games Left Min/Max Points Per Game
SEA 32 18 1.78 4 1.45/2.00
SKC 33 19 1.74 3 1.50/1.91
POR 32 19 1.68 4 1.39/1.91
MIN 27 18 1.5 4 1.23/1.77
LAFC 25 18 1.39 4 1.14/1.68
DAL 25 18 1.39 4 1.14/1.68
COL 19 14 1.36 4 1.06/1.72
VAN 24 20 1.2 3 1.04/1.43
SJ 24 20 1.2 3 1.04/1.43
RSL 22 19 1.16 3 1.00/1.41
LA 18 17 1.06 5 0.82/1.50
HOU 21 20 1.05 3 0.91/1.30

But what if the postponed matches are rescheduled? As of now, once again Sporting KC would need one more point this season to lock up a top-eight seed in the West. A draw would bump Sporting KC to 34 points and—now based on 23 games played—1.48 points point game, which is higher than Houston, Vancouver or San Jose can amass. As before, Real Salt Lake would also be unable to surpass Sporting despite a conceivable 34 points from 23 games due to the aforementioned wins tiebreaker.

Team Points Games Played Points Per Game Games Left Min/Max Points Per Game
SEA 32 18 1.78 4 or 5 1.39/2.04
SKC 33 19 1.74 3 or 4 1.43/1.96
POR 32 19 1.68 4 1.39/1.91
MIN 27 18 1.5 4 or 5 1.17/1.83
LAFC 25 18 1.39 4 or 5 1.09/1.74
DAL 25 18 1.39 4 or 5 1.09/1.74
COL 19 14 1.36 4 to 9 0.83/2.00
VAN 24 20 1.2 3 1.04/1.43
SJ 24 20 1.2 3 1.04/1.43
RSL 22 19 1.16 3 or 4 0.96/1.48
LA 18 17 1.06 5 or 6 0.78/1.57
HOU 21 20 1.05 3 0.91/1.30

Thus, in an unprecedented and unpredictable year, the MLS playoff push involves both monitoring scores and scheduling.

Nevertheless, Sporting Kansas City Manager Peter Vermes and his squad are in the enviable position—pole position—to control their own destiny regardless of how the remainder of the regular season plays out.

"We’re in first place right now," Vermes said in last night's postgame press conference. "We’ve still got games left and we’ve got to keep working to try to get into the playoffs in the best position we can. That’s all we’re focused on."

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