One game to go: Where Nashville SC stands in the race for playoffs and continental competition

Earlier this week, I wrote:

“What a rollercoaster of emotions last night. I cannot remember a bigger swing in emotions in all my soccer-watching years.”

Little did I realize what yesterday afternoon’s match against Orlando City would have in store. Andrés Perea scored a stoppage time goal only for it to be disallowed following VAR review due to a foul committed by Daryl Dike.

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With only Decision Day’s clash with New York Red Bulls remaining, Nashville SC sit in third place in the Eastern Conference, even on points with Philadelphia. The Union own the first tiebreaker of Total Wins.

While Nashville no longer occupy second place, there is good reason to hope that they will when the regular season wraps up as Philadelphia must travel to New York City on Decision Day. 

Beyond the MLS Cup playoffs, Nashville remain on solid ground for an entry into the 2022 Leagues Cup competition. A Concacaf Champions League berth is now out of the cards unless the Boys in Gold win MLS Cup. 

Let’s walk through the various end-of-season scenarios and map out where Nashville may finish.

Nashville’s potential playoff seed

Nashville stand in third place in the Eastern Conference; level with Philadelphia, three points ahead of New York City, and six points clear of Atlanta United. Those three clubs, along with New England, are the only remaining teams that can finish above Nashville SC in the Eastern Conference. Orlando are currently ahead of Atlanta in the standings but cannot catch Nashville with only one game remaining.

The remaining schedule for each: 

Nashville SC: vs New York Red Bulls

New York City: vs Philadelphia Union

Atlanta United: at New York Red Bulls, at FC Cincinnati

Let’s walk through the potential Decision Day scenarios for Nashville SC as they stand today. This will change after Atlanta’s Wednesday night match against the Red Bulls.

Nashville loss

The best case scenario with a Nashville loss would see the Boys In Gold finish in third place.  This result would require New York City and Atlanta to both drop points. 

The worst case scenario would see Nashville finish in fifth place. If New York City beat Philadelphia and Atlanta beat both NY Red Bulls and Cincinnati on the road, Nashville SC would tumble down the table and be forced to travel to Yankee Stadium for the first round of the playoffs.

The most likely scenario would see Nashville finish in fourth place.  New York City are favored to beat Philadelphia at home. FiveThirtyEight’s match predictor gives the Pigeons a 58% chance to win the match.

A win over Philadelphia would catapult New York City into second place based on tiebreakers. But a Nashville loss would likely not lead to Nashville tumble down to fifth place. 

By FiveThirtyEight’s same match predictor, Atlanta United will be a heavy underdog (16% chance to win) in their mid-week trip to Red Bull Arena.

Based on the likely results, a loss on Decision Day would likely see Nashville finish in fourth place.

Nashville draw

The best case scenario with a draw would see Nashville finish in second place. Earning at least a point is mission critical for Gary Smith’s side. The one point earned from a draw would put Nashville out of reach of both New York City and Atlanta as both sides can, at most, finish with 53 points. If Philadelphia fall on the road to New York City, a Nashville draw would secure a second place finish. 

The worst case scenario would see Nashville finish in third place. If Philadelphia were to split the points or come away with a win at Yankee Stadium, then the Union would finish in second place above Nashville. 

The most likely scenario would see Nashville finish in second place. As previously mentioned, Philadelphia enter the weekend as an underdog on the road to New York City. A Philadelphia loss is the expected result. In such event, a Nashville draw against New York Red Bulls would be sufficient to climb back into second place in the Eastern Conference.

Nashville win

By this point, you get the picture. A Nashville win likely will be enough to push Nashville SC into second place in the Eastern Conference. Only a Philadelphia win on the road would result in Nashville finishing third place.

How Nashville can qualify for Concacaf Champions League

Win MLS Cup.

That’s the only path remaining for Nashville SC to qualify for Concacaf Champions League. The outside shot at finishing fourth place in the overall table ran dry with the Colorado Rapid’s away win at Houston over the weekend.

While Nashville are a long shot to qualify for the regions premier club competition, they should gain entry to another inter-league competition. 

Nashville are projected to qualify for 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 – 53 pts – Philadelphia – Leagues Cup

3rd – 53 pts – Nashville SC – Leagues Cup


4th – 50 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.

Author: Chris IveyChris is a senior writer covering Nashville SC. His writings focus on the team at large and often navigate the complexity of roster building around the myriad of MLS rules. Outside of Broadway Sports Media, Chris resides in Knoxville and is a licensed attorney. Beyond NSC, he is always willing to discuss Tennessee football and basketball, Coventry City, and USMNT. Follow Chris on Twitter

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