Gerso Fernandes - Sporting KC vs. Colorado Rapids - October 24, 2020
Denny Medley - USA Today Sports Images

Playoff Math: Sporting KC in three-team race for first place entering final week of season

More than eight months after Major League Soccer's 25th campaign kicked off on Feb. 29, the longest regular season in league history is down to its final week. Postseason berths and playoff positions hang in the balance as clubs get set for a frantic finish with five midweek matches currently scheduled for Wednesday, Nov. 4 prior to a full slate of 13 games on MLS Decision Day 2020 presented by AT&T on Sunday, Nov. 8.

Who's in? Who's out? And what's it all mean for Sporting Kansas City?

This penultimate edition of Playoff Math puts together the latest pieces of the postseason puzzle.

But first and foremost, let's quickly review where we left off. 

We already knew Sporting Kansas City has secured a spot in the 2020 Audi MLS Cup Playoffs. That came courtesy of the club's 1-0 win over FC Cincinnati last Wednesday. We also learned last Thursday, in an announcement from MLS, that the league standings have officially shifted to points per game for ranking teams.

Now, after Sporting Kansas City's matchup with Minnesota was cancelled this weekend, we know Sporting has locked up one of the top three seeds in the Western Conference and will enter Sunday's regular season finale at Real Salt Lake in a three-team race along with Seattle and Portland to secure first place in the Western Conference.

As seen from the table below, Sporting Kansas City currently sits in second place in the West with 36 points from 20 regular season matches. That's good for 1.8 points per game. Atop the table by the slimmest of margins with 1.81 points per game are the Portland Timbers, who capitalized on Sporting's cancellation and Seattle's 3-1 loss on Sunday by vaulting to pole position with a 1-0 victory over Vancouver.

Team Pts GP PPG GR Min/Max PPG
x-POR 38 21 1.81 2 1.65/1.91
x-SKC 36 20 1.8 1 1.71/1.857
x-SEA 35 20 1.75 2 1.59/1.864
x-MIN 30 19 1.58 2 1.43/1.71
x-LAFC 31 20 1.55 1 or 2 1.41/1.68
x-DAL 31 20 1.55 2 1.41/1.68
COL 22 16 1.38 2 1.22/1.56
SJ 27 21 1.29 1 or 2 1.17/1.43
VAN 24 22 1.09 1 1.04/1.17
LA 21 20 1.05 2 0.95/1.23
e-RSL 22 21 1.05 1 1.00/1.14
e-HOU 21 21 1 2 0.91/1.17

x - Clinched playoff spot
e - Eliminated from playoff race

Unlike Sporting KC, Portland and Seattle both are scheduled to play on Wednesday and each have fixtures against opponents fighting to qualify for the postseason. The Timbers host Colorado (9 p.m. CT), while the Sounders travel to take on the LA Galaxy (10 p.m. CT). Then on Sunday, all three teams are scheduled to take the field simultaneously at 5:30 p.m. CT with Portland at LAFC, Sporting at Real Salt Lake, and Seattle at home versus San Jose.

If Sporting Kansas City defeats Real Salt Lake on Sunday, Portland and Seattle would each have to win their final two matches in order to finish above Sporting in the standings. The table below breaks down all the various scenarios by calculating each team's points per game based on the number of points each team can possibly earn in the remainder of the regular season.

Figures in red indicate outcomes in which that team would finish below Sporting KC in the standings. Figures in green indicate outcomes in which that team would finish ahead of Sporting KC in the standings. And figures in yellow indicate outcomes in which that team could finish below OR ahead of Sporting KC in the standings depending on Sporting's result against Real Salt Lake.

Team Pts GP PPG GR Min/Max PPG 0 pts 1 pt 2 pts 3 pts 4 pts 6 pts
POR 38 21 1.81 2 1.65/1.91 1.65 1.7 1.74 1.78 1.83 1.91
SKC 36 20 1.8 1 1.71/1.857 1.71 1.76 ------- 1.857    
SEA 35 20 1.75 2 1.59/1.864 1.59 1.64 1.68 1.73 1.77 1.864

Put more simply, Portland would need to earn at least two more points than Sporting KC earns this week to finish above Sporting in the standings and Seattle would need to earn at least three more points than Sporting KC earns this week to finish above Sporting in the standings.

Sporting Kansas City Manager Peter Vermes is no stranger to pressure-packed Decision Days. In four previous years during Vermes' tenure - in 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2018 - Sporting has entered the team's regular season finale with first place up for grabs. Sporting won on all four occasions.

"I've always been under the opinion that every game is important but, as we all know, when you get down toward the end of the season, each game has such an impact because the final table and the final view is more determined just because you can start doing all the calculations to figure it out," Vermes told media during a press conference on Friday. "We've just got to go play and I guess you play the voodoo dolls and hopefully everything works in your favor."