While LAFC are setting a strong pace in the Western Conference of MLS, things are a tighter in the East, where a host of teams are jostling for play-off places.
Six becomes Seven
Previous MLS Cup play-offs have involved the top six in each conference facing off in two-legged ties, but this year there have been significant changes, with more teams involved, but a greater advantage for those finishing at the top end of the table. The new format provides for seven teams to be involved but does away with the two-legged fixtures and offers a bye for the top side in each conference. The result has been greater competition to get into the post-season and for contenders, the incentive of securing home advantage by finishing as high as possible.
A Familiar Tale in New York
Since their arrival in MLS, New York City FC have outshone their longer-established rivals and it has been a familiar story this season. NYCFC have a one-point advantage over their neighbours, but have three games in hand, and four games in hand on leaders Philadelphia, which could put them eight points clear at the top. That explains why they are currently regarded as the 7/5 Conference favourites. Meanwhile, the Red Bulls have been struggling for consistency, winning three and losing four of their last eight and are rated as fifth favourites at 13/2.
Early Pacesetters Losing Momentum
Philadelphia Union are clinging to their lead in the East, but will surely be overtaken before long. Jim Curtin’s side lost only twice in sixteen games between March and the end of June, but have won only two of their last six, and have been thrashed 4-0 by Montreal and Real Salt Lake. Wayne Rooney’s DC United have suffered the same fate, though their problem has been a string of draws – seven in the last eleven. Philadelphia have long since lost favouritism and are ranked fourth at 5/1, while DC United are considered to be third favourites at 4/1.
As the leaders have faltered, others have made up ground, not least defending champions Atlanta United, who have improved steadily and are now 3/1 second favourites, and surprise package New England Revolution who are on an eleven game unbeaten run and can be backed at 11/1 as the regular season enters its latter stages.