Can Atlanta United reach second in MLS East?

After last night’s 7-0 thumping of New England, Atlanta United moved to fifth place in the MLS Eastern Conference.

Here are the standings:

Toronto (17-3-8), 59 points

NYCFC (15-8-5), 50 points

Chicago (13-9-6), 45 points

Columbus (13-12-4), 43 points

Atlanta United (12-8-6), 42 points

New York Red Bulls (12-10-5), 41 points

I’m not going to include the teams below sixth because I don’t believe they can get back into the playoff chase.

On the postgame episode of Southern Fried Soccer, Jason Longshore and I wondered if Atlanta United can climb to as high as second in the East by the end of the season.

It would take a lot of luck.

Atlanta United trails NYCFC by eight points, but has two games in hand. The task isn’t impossible.

Here’s the remaining schedules of teams that Atlanta United would have to pass to reach second and get a bye in the playoffs:

NYCFC: at Colorado (25 points), vs. Houston (38), at Montreal (36), at Chicago (45), at New England (35), vs. Columbus (43). 

Average points per opponent: 37.

Chicago: vs. D.C. United (28), at Philadelphia (32), at San Jose (36), vs. NYCFC (50), vs. Philadelphia (32), at Houston (38).

Average points per opponent: 36.

Columbus: at Vancouver (44), vs. New York Red Bulls (41), vs. D.C. United (28), at Orlando (34), at NYCFC (50).

Average points per opponent: 39.4.

Atlanta United: vs. Orlando (34), vs. L.A. Galaxy, vs. Montreal (36), vs. Philadelphia (32), at New England (35), vs. Minnesota (26), at New York Red Bulls (41), vs. Toronto (59). 

Average points per opponent: 32.9.

New York Red Bulls: vs. Philadelphia (32), at Columbus (43), vs. D.C. United (28), at Toronto (59), vs. Vancouver (44), vs. Atlanta United (42), at D.C. United (28).

Average points per opponent: 39.4.

As you can see, Atlanta United has the easiest remaining schedule. Its two toughest games are its final two: at New York Red Bulls and vs. Toronto. The Five Stripes could have the advantage of neither team having anything to play for, making the path to the potential second seed even easier.

The Red Bulls could be locked into their playoff spot by Oct. 15, and Toronto should already have the Supporter’s Shield in hand long before Oct. 22. They may not need to field their strongest teams.

The key for Atlanta United may be that NYCFC’s next two games, which it seems likely to play without MVP candidate David Villa (abductor) and key starter Yangel Herrera (sports hernia). Though Colorado is arguably is the league’s worst team this season, playing in Denver isn’t easy. The Rapids’ 6-5-2 record at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park is proof.

NYCFC must then host Houston, which is in a fight for a playoff spot in the West. It is just two points ahead of seventh-place San Jose and three ahead of eighth-place Real Salt Lake. It should come out blazing. 

Conversely, Atlanta United will play struggling Orlando City in a game that should set an MLS attendance record with more than 70,000 fans at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, will then host the injury-ravaged L.A. Galaxy, which may be the most disappointing team in the league this season, and then host Montreal, which should be mathematically eliminated from the postseason by the time the teams meet Sept. 24.

With a lot of luck, Atlanta United could be one point ahead of NYCFC by 10 p.m. Sept. 24.

That doesn’t mean the Five Stripes will be in second. There are still teams ahead of them. But it’s possible. 



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