Storylines is preparing for the end of the regular season and anxiously awaiting the crucial run of games ahead of Minnesota United. It’s not quite do-or-die time just yet, but we’re drawing ever closer to that territory with every passing game.
Every Major League Soccer season plays out a little differently. Contenders rise and fall, making way for new powerhouses and fresh surprises, and giving everyone their time in the sun if they’re savvy enough to seize it. But while the names filling each spot in the standings change frequently, the numbers separating everyone rarely stray too far from the average.
With the exception of the shortened 2020 season, the last few seasons have shown clear trends in the number of points it takes to finish in each position. The Supporters’ Shield winner always seems to end the year within the high 60s or low 70s, while the Wooden Spoon typically goes to a team that finishes in the low to mid 20s.
Last season, for example, LAFC and Philly battled it out for the regular season title, earning 67 points apiece and seeing Carlos Vela’s side win on tiebreakers. At the other end of the table, D.C. United brought up the rear with just 27 points, an improvement on Cincinnati’s 20-point season in 2021.
The top and bottom of the table are the easiest places to find trends, but the rest of the standings aren’t much different; reaching the playoffs is about as formulaic as winning the whole thing.
When MNUFC’s playoff streak started in 2019, the top seven teams in each conference qualified for the playoffs. Now, the eighth and ninth seeded teams will face off in the Wild Card matchup, meaning that finishing as low as ninth gives you a chance to win MLS Cup.
So how many points does history say a team needs to accumulate to secure at least a ninth-place finish? If we look at the last three seasons, once again excluding 2020, the average point total of the teams in ninth was 43.3 points, while the average for seventh-place teams was roughly 47.67 points. Let’s round those figures for clarity and assume that, in 2023, you’re going to need at least 43 points for ninth place and 48 points for seventh.
Okay, that’s the standard. Now let’s look at what the Loons need to do to hit those marks.
With four games remaining, there are 12 points up for grabs. If they run the table, the Loons will finish with 49 points, which has historically been enough for a spot in the postseason. To hit the Wild Card marker, the Black and Blue only need to pick up six points, leaving two games of wiggle room if they can pick up two wins. But these are fine margins; one point could be the difference in the end.
Currently, MNUFC is 11th in the West with 37 points from 30 games. Seventh-place Vancouver has 41 points from 31 games, while ninth-place Dallas has 39 points from 29 games. Neither of them are out of reach just yet, though a few results would have to be kind to us for MNUFC to catch up to either one.
The biggest remaining matchups are undoubtedly this weekend’s game against San Jose and the final home game against the LA Galaxy on October 7. Both California teams are direct threats to MNUFC’s playoff hopes, and the results of these games could make or break the 2023 season. If the Loons can secure at least six points before the Decision Day showdown with SKC, they might be able to squeak by with a draw in Kansas.
It’s too early to be drawing up playoff scenarios, but one thing is certain: it’s a tight race around the playoff line, and no one can afford to slip up this late in the season. If the Loons want to keep their playoff streak alive, they’re going to have to come up with some big wins in the pressure cooker that is the Western Conference’s mid-table mix-up.
Minnesota United FC vs. San Jose Earthquakes
Allianz Field | Saint Paul, Minnesota
09.30.2023 | MLS Game #31
7:30 p.m. CT (Watch free on MLS Season Pass, 1500 ESPN)