As much as everyone is checking the standings this time of year, that still only tells part of the story as the Audi 2017 MLS Cup Playoffs come into clearer focus. Disparities in the number of games remaining, strength of schedule and other factors will also play into who ultimately finishes above the playoff line in both conferences, which could obviously be different from who is sitting there right now after Week 27.
For example, Atlanta United has some games in hand and is given a higher playoff probability than two of their Eastern Conference rivals who are currently higher in the standings: the New York Red Bulls and Columbus Crew SC. Out West, FC Dallas is given a substantially higher possibility of qualifying for the postseason than the San Jose Earthquakes, despite only one point currently separating the sides. Here’s a full look at their current playoff probabilities for all 22 MLS sides:
Eastern Conference (Toronto FC – 100%; New York City FC – >99%;Chicago Fire – 98%; Atlanta United – 95%; New York Red Bulls – 93%; Columbus Crew SC – 82%; New England Revolution – 16%; Montreal Impact – 13%; Orlando City SC – 3%; Philadelphia Union – <1%; D.C. United – <1%) and Western Conference (Portland Timbers – 99%; Seattle Sounders – 98%; Vancouver Whitecaps – 97%; Sporting Kansas City – 97%; Houston Dynamo – 83%; FC Dallas – 73%; San Jose Earthquakes – 32%; Real Salt Lake – 19%; LA Galaxy – <1%; Minnesota United – <1%; Colorado Rapids – <1%)
The Timbers playmaker is playing the best soccer of his career, and it has Portland leading the West and Valeri in the MLS MVP running. MLS’s MVP race has felt like a foregone conclusion for some time. David Villa has been putting together a season even better than he had in 2016 when he won MVP honors, and with New York City FC looking like a serious title contender, it was tough to see anyone posing a real threat to Villa winning the award again. A new challenger has emerged though, and he delivered his latest case for consideration on Villa’s own home turf to boost his MVP candidacy. Diego Valeri’s winning goal in Portland’s 1-0 victory over NYCFC on Saturday wasn’t close to being the most impressive of the 17 he has scored this season, but that goal and his efforts in the win illustrated why he is has catapulted to the front of the line among serious challengers to Villa’s MVP reign.
Timbers coach Caleb Porter praised Valeri: “He’s been in the league five years and he’s produced every single year, but this is his best year in his MLS career. He’s always been considered a top player, but what he’s doing for our team, and what he’s doing in terms of production, we can’t lose sight of how hard he’s working. We’re trying to be a team that presses from the front and you can’t do that unless your 10 presses. Not only did he score, but he took away one of their best players in the buildup defensively, and that’s what makes him so valuable. He’s not a luxury guy that just walks around. He’s a guy that will work both sides of the ball. He’s a guy that can score. In our system, he’s the one who makes us go.”
Valeri credits his ability to stay healthy for the past two seasons with helping him find a good rhythm and understanding of Portland’s system. Valeri said: “It’s helped me getting to know my teammates, and understanding my role. With the quality this team has, it helps me play well.” About mentioning his name in the MVP race: “It’s an honor to even be mentioned in the conversation because there are so many great players at so many different positions in our league. It motivates me to keep going and keep playing well. What matters most to me is the recognition of my teammates, and having them know that I give my all when I’m on the field.” If the Timbers are going to win a second title in three years, Valeri will need to continue playing at his best, and if he can maintain the impressive level he has found in recent months, the MVP race will very much be a two-horse race with Valeri a serious candidate to be the first midfielder to win the award since Dwayne DeRosario in 2011.
Orlando City striker Cyle Larin made history with his goal in the 19th minute against D.C United, marked his 43rd goal in an Orlando City uniform, making him the all-time leading goal scorer for the Lions over all eras and across all competitions. Kevin Molino led the team with 42 goals over his six years with Orlando, but Larin scored his 43rd in his 85th career game across all competitions. Molino scored his goals over 144 games, making Larin the more efficient scorer over his professional career. Larin scored all but one of his goals in MLS play, while Molino scored 30 of his in USL from 2011-2014.
Already the youngest to score 40 goals in MLS history, the Canadian now will look to be the youngest to score 50 goals in the league. With six games remaining on the season, Larin has the potential to continue to add to his goal scoring tally and break some more Lions records in the process.