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MLS Cup playoff scenarios: Where can the Crew finish, who the Black & Gold play

Columbus can still win the Supporters’ Shield but can still fall out of the top four spots as well.

MLS: Philadelphia Union at Columbus Crew SC Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

In March when the Major League Soccer regular season was suspended for three months, it was hard to imagine the league would get to this point in November. Yet here we are. It’s the final week of the 2020 MLS regular season and the Columbus Crew has already booked its place in the MLS Cup playoffs.

The only thing in question going into Wednesday night’s match at Orlando City and the Decision Day battle with Atlanta United in Columbus on Sunday is which seed the Black & Gold will get in the playoffs. The Crew can finish as high as first place in the Eastern Conference and as low as fifth place.

Here is a guide as to what needs to happen for each scenario to come true.

The Crew finish first and win the Supporters’ Shield

The Black & Gold could finish the regular season clinching home-field advantage throughout the playoffs but the team does not control its own destiny for the top seed and win the Supporters’ Shield.

For Columbus to get the No, 1 seed, the Black & Gold would need to win both their remaining matches against Orlando and Atlanta plus get a Philadelphia Union loss to the New England Revolution and a Toronto FC loss to the New York Red Bulls. Furthermore, the Crew would need to beat both Philadelphia and Toronto in either the goal differential per game or in the goals for category to win the tiebreaker.

All of the above would need to occur added on with the Portland Timbers losing the team’s last two matches and beating the Timbers on tiebreakers to win the Supporters’ Shield. This is an unlikely scenario because Columbus is well behind Philadelphia in both goal differential and goals scored.

The Crew finish second

To clarify for anyone who listened to the Massive Report Podcast, I WAS WRONG ABOUT THE CREW NOT BEING ABLE TO GET THE No. 2 SEED! Now that this is out of the way, here is how Columbus can get a first-round bye.

All the Crew would need to do is win both of its last two matches and would need help from the Red Bulls to defeat Toronto. If Columbus and TFC both finish on 44 points, the Black & Gold would likely win on the second tiebreaker of goal differential per match. Toronto sits on +0.36 GD/game while the Black & Gold is at +0.71 GD/game.

If this same result happens but with Philadelphia losing and Toronto winning, Columbus would finish third because Philadelphia’s goal-differential and goals scored is well above the Crew’s.

The Crew finish third

This is the likeliest place to see the Crew finish with a victory against Orlando City on Wednesday night. If Columbus wins that match, the team secures a home game in the MLS Cup playoffs and would just need to draw to make secure the No. 3 seed.

the Black & Gold would automatically have a better goal difference than Orlando with a win on Wednesday because both teams are at +15 going into the match. If Columbus were to lose to Atlanta and Orlando beats Nashville SC, the Black & Gold could finish in fourth place.

Crew finish fourth

Finishing fourth still guarantees the Crew a home game in the playoffs but doesn’t give the team a great chance to host more games after the first round. There is a multitude of scenarios where the Black & Gold would get the fourth seed. Here is the simplest one.

If the Orlando game ends in a draw, Columbus would still be ahead in third on the wins tiebreaker, having 11 to Orlando’s 10. If the Crew loses to Atlanta and Orlando defeats Nashville, the Crew will get the No. 4 seed.

Crew finish fifth

The worst-case scenario for the Black & Gold is not earning at least one home match in the MLS Cup playoffs and finishing as the No. 5 seed in the East. The only way this can happen is if the Crew loses both their matches, Orlando defeats Nashville and New York City FC gets a victory over the Chicago Fire.

Orlando City and New York City are the only two teams that mathematically can hop above the Black & Gold. If the above result occurred, Columbus would have 38 points and NYCFC would sit on 39. That would set up a match at Red Bull Arena between the Crew and New York City in the Eastern Conference first round.

Likely Opponents

With five potential seeds still available for Columbus, the team can face nearly every team still alive for the playoffs. With a top-two seed, the Crew would play a remaining team after the play-in matches. The possible teams in those spots include New England, Nashville, the Red Bulls, the Montreal Impact, Chicago, Atlanta, Inter Miami and D.C. United.

If Columbus is the No. 3 seed, the Black & Gold would host either New England, Nashville or the Red Bulls since they are the only three teams who can finish in sixth place. If the Crew is the No. 4 or No. 5 seed, the Black & Gold can only play Orlando City or New York City. As the No. 4 seed, the Crew would host either team. As the No. 5 seed, Columbus would travel to face either team.

It’s going to be interesting to follow along and a wild ride. Stayed with two games left to go in the Black & Gold’s season.