MLS Playoffs 2018 Preview and Predictions

Major League Soccer regular season has ran its course and the post season is already at full speed. Once again the season was full of surprises, including a couple of sackings, signings and retirements in the midst of it.  In Accuscore’s MLS Season Preview 2018 we predicted 4/6 Western Conference teams heading to playoffs, but only 3/6 in the East. While there were a couple of really close calls, especially the east was surprising to say the least.

For a quick recap before heading to playoff-predictions, let’s take a peek at the regular season. In the east, by far the biggest disappointment was the reigning champion, star-studded Toronto FC. It’s hard to say what exactly went wrong, as they were clear favorites to win it all before the season – and then not even close to making it to the postseason. Other disappointments were at the bottom of the pile, as Orlando City and Chicago Fire collapsed completely and missed the playoffs, despite being predicted to at least top-7. The places left over  were overtaken by resurging DC United, Columbus Crew and Philadelphia Union, of which only the Crew was supposed to have a chance of challenging.

In the west, surprises were less obvious. If you squint hard enough, you might even see Los Angeles Galaxy up there, instead of the expansion team Los Angeles FC, rudely taking the place of their bigger brother in the postseason. Not even Zlatan could save Galaxy, as they stumbled to 7th place and missed the playoffs by a point. Another exclusion from predicted top-6 was Houston, with Real Salt Lake making the cut by the skin of their teeth.

As the first Knockout Round has already started, we have a better picture going forward. With Accuscore simulation engine, we can predict the most likely scenario all the way to the hoisting of the MLS Cup on December 8th. Here’s how Accuscore MLS Playoffs Predictions 2018 look like:

Accuscore's MLS Playoffs 2018 Prediction - Round 2

Analysis – Top-4

The Western top duo is most likely to plow through to the conference final with ease, while in the east it’s a lot more hairy. With the 2-legs and away goal rule, there’s not much of a home advantage and we could see some surprises. In the Conference finals, it’s practically a coin toss between the top teams and even the simulations can’t make a bigger than 1% margin between the hopefuls.

Last year’s finalist and the champions before that, Seattle Sounders look extremely solid this season as well. They went on a 12-game unbeaten run from July to September and lost only two games from the last 10 entering the postseason. The team is top-notch in every aspect of the game, albeit missing some star power the other challengers might boast. However, Sounders make up for that in persistence and experience – they definitely know what it takes to win the short tournament such as MLS Playoffs. In Accuscore simulations, Seattle is the biggest favorite to hoist the MLS Cup, with around 20% probability.

Down the line it’s rather surprising to see New York City over Atlanta United and their rivals New York Red Bulls, if only by slimmest of margins. City was extremely efficient in converting their chances in their anticipated first round victory over Philly and will already have their work cut out for them against one of the early favorites Atlanta United. Both teams like to attack and have quality troops for that. It’s up to City’s defense to stop 31-goal-scorer Joseph Martinez, although he cooled off towards the end of the campaign. New York City fields a playoff-weapon of their own, as forever young David Villa looks better than ever. We are looking for an extremely entertaining shootout between City and Atlanta United – followed by even more intriguing matchup against New York Red Bull. According to Accuscore simulations, City is the surprise inclusion in the MLS Cup final from the East and will lift the trophy with 13% probability.

Like their Western Conference colleagues Seattle, Sporting Kansas City only got better as the regular season came to close. They finished the season with nine wins, two losses and two draws since August, after horrendous July of a single point from six games. Overcoming adversity is what they’re capable of and they’re prepared to challenge for the final. Sporting doesn’t boast big names up front, but their balanced squad is capable of slowing down any opponent. Their first obstacle Real Salt Lake, who surprised Los Angeles FC in the first round, shouldn’t pose much of a challenge. In Accuscore simulations they fall short against Seattle, but only by the skin of their teeth. KC takes the trophy home with 16% probability

After posting a record-breaking season in MLS, New York Red Bulls are considered the favorites by many. They closed the season with five wins, posting a record 71 points and allowing less than a goal per game. It all looks excellent heading to the playoffs, but there are a couple of difficult obstacles on the way. First hurdle is Columbus Crew, who managed to snatch a 2-3 win at DC United after penalties. Then there’s the rivals from across town, New York City. The hard fought playoff-battles just might not be the Red Bulls cup of tea and surprisingly Accuscore’s simulations value their chances to win the cup only at 13%.

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