What a rollercoaster of emotions last night. I cannot remember a bigger swing in emotions in all my soccer-watching years. Nashville’s massive comeback at Cincinnati, combined with dropped points elsewhere in the Eastern Conference, clinched Nashville’s spot in the MLS Cup playoffs.
With only two matches remaining in the MLS regular season, Nashville sits alone in second place on 52 points. But the job is far from finished as the team will want to lock up home field advantage for the first two rounds.
Beyond the MLS playoffs, Nashville remains on solid ground for an entry into the 2022 Leagues Cup competition, with an improving chance at landing a spot in Concacaf Champions League.
Let’s walk through the various end-of-season scenarios and map out where Nashville may finish.
Nashville’s playoff seed
Nashville stands in second place in the Eastern Conference, two points clear of Philadelphia and five points ahead of New York City and Orlando City. The club completely controls its own destiny in locking up the second seed.
Nashville will travel to Orlando this weekend before closing the regular season with a Decision Day clash against New York Red Bulls.
While highly unlikely, Nashville could still fall as far as the sixth seed if results across the Eastern Conference go completely awry. Below is what that worst case scenario would look like. But such an outcome is as likely as me suiting up to play in Nashville’s next match.
At this juncture, it is much more likely that Nashville finishes in either second or third place.
One win and one draw in the final two games will only fail to secure second place if Philadelphia wins both of their remaining games. The clubs would be level on 56 points, but Philadelphia would eclipse Nashville on the first tiebreaker of Total Wins.
One win and one loss in the final two games would guarantee that Gary Smith’s side could fall no further than fourth place. But ending up in fourth place would require both Philadelphia and Atlanta to win out.
- Philadelphia Remaining Schedule: vs Cincinnati | @ NYCFC
- Atlanta United Remaining Schedule: vs Toronto | @ NYRB | @ Cincinnati
If both clubs drop a point, Nashville will secure a second-place finish with a win over Orlando or the Red Bulls.
A pair of draws in the final two matches could also be sufficient for Nashville to secure second-place. It would require Atlanta to drop a point and Philadelphia to lose at NYCFC (because they aren’t losing at home to Cincinnati).
One draw and one loss in Nashville’s final two matches could potentially lead to a chaotic table with five teams all tied with 53 points. It would be peak MLS, so do not count it out as a possibility.
The gist of all of this is to say that Nashville still has plenty of work to do if it wants to ensure that they play in front of a partisan crowd at Nissan Stadium. But the thrilling come-from-behind win at Cincinnati coupled with Philadelphia’s draw has opened a path paved in gold for Nashville to lock up a second-place finish.
How can Nashville qualify for Concacaf Champions League?
The easiest way to earn a Concacaf Champions League berth is to just win the MLS Cup. But let’s assume Nashville does not lift the Cup. How else could Nashville qualify for the region’s premier continental competition?
Despite Saturday’s results, there is still an outside chance for Nashville to qualify for the Concacaf Champions League. For the 2022 competition, MLS will award four spots in the following manner:
- Supporters’ Shield Winner – New England Revolution (clinched)
- Regular Season Conference Champion – Sporting Kansas City (current)
- Next Best Regular Season Record – Seattle Sounders (current)
- MLS Cup Champion *
*If the MLS Cup Champion has already qualified for Concacaf Champions League, then the team with next best regular season record will be awarded the fourth spot.
If Nashville wants to qualify for Concacaf Champions League, it first needs to pass the Colorado Rapids on the overall table while holding off the Philadelphia Union.
There are two scenarios wherein Nashville could finish fourth in the overall standings.
Nashville finishes with one win and one draw (56 points)
Colorado loses out (@HOU / LAFC)
Philadelphia fails to win both matches (CIN / @NYC)
Nashville wins out (@ORL / NYRB)
Colorado finishes with one draw and one loss
Even if one of these scenarios occur, Nashville would still need either New England, Seattle, or Sporting Kansas City to win MLS Cup for the fourth-place spot to open.
While Nashville’s chances of qualifying for Concacaf Champions League appear slim, the club is in solid position to qualify for another regional competition.
Nashville is on track to qualify for the Leagues Cup
As things stand today, Nashville would earn a spot in the 2022 Leagues Cup.
Started in 2019, Leagues Cup was created to generate additional matches and strengthen ties between MLS and LigaMX. Next year will be the last iteration of the current format. The leagues recently announced a massive revamp of the competition that will turn Leagues Cup into a World Cup-style tournament involving all teams from both leagues.
In its current form, MLS sends to Leagues Cup the top two clubs from each conference that fail to qualify for Concacaf Champions League. Here is how qualification shakes out currently:
1st – 73 pts – New England Revolution – Concacaf Champions League
2nd – 52 pts – Nashville SC – Leagues Cup
3rd – 50 pts – Philadelphia – Leagues Cup
4th – 47 pts – New York City
Nashville qualifying for Leagues Cup would be a massive achievement for the young club. As I wrote a month ago, a Leagues Cup match in the new fairgrounds stadium would be a “can’t miss” affair.
Between MLS playoffs and continental competition, there is a lot to still shake out as Nashville wraps up its second MLS season. I will update this article after Nashville’s penultimate match as the muddy playoff picture begins to clear.