With only three matches remaining in the MLS regular season, the race for playoff spots in the Eastern Conference is the tightest it has ever been. Only eight points separate second place from ninth place.
One thing is for certain; playoff seeding is going to shuffle more than a casino blackjack deck over the last two weeks. Heading into the final stretch, Nashville find themselves sitting in third place of the Eastern Conference fighting for home playoff match. Level on points with Philadelphia, the Union own the first tiebreaker of total wins.
Nashville have yet to officially clinch a playoff spot. But they should lock up a playoff berth for the second consecutive year barring a historic late-season collapse.
Beyond the MLS playoffs, Nashville remains firmly in the chase for an entry into the 2022 Leagues Cup competition, with an outside chance at landing a spot in Concacaf Champions League.
Let’s walk through the various end of season scenarios and predict where Nashville may finish.
Qualifying for MLS Cup Playoffs
The first order of business is to clinch a spot in the playoffs. The rest of this article is entirely irrelevant if Nashville fail to even qualify. With razor-thin margins in the Eastern Conference, there are still a few scenarios wherein Nashville could theoretically fall below the playoff line.
But there is no need to sound the alarm bells just yet. The club could clinch a playoff berth as soon as Wednesday night, and FiveThirtyEight gives Nashville a 99% chance of qualifying.
After a bad string of results Saturday from a partisan perspective, Nashville will need additional help if they want to lock up a playoff spot on Wednesday night with a win at fanbase rivals FC Cincinnati. Winning the match at TQL Stadium, by itself, is insufficient to ensure a playoff berth. Nashville SC can qualify for the MLS playoffs Wednesday night only under the following scenario:
NASHVILLE WIN OVER CINCINNATI
AND ONE OF
NEW YORK CITY DRAW OR LOSS AGAINST CHICAGO
ORLANDO CITY DRAW OR LOSS AGAINST COLUMBUS
ATLANTA UNITED DRAW OR LOSS AGAINST INTER MIAMI
NEW YORK RED BULLS LOSS OR DRAW AGAINST DC UNITED
That scenario would be ideal as it would take a lot of added pressure off the final two matches and allow the squad to focus solely on playoff seeding.
Nashville’s likely seed
Nashville can at best finish second place in the Eastern Conference. The New England Revolution secured the Supporters’ Shield over the weekend and have long since locked up the first seed in the Eastern Conference.
Nashville failed to win its last six matches, but a trip to Cincinnati comes at a perfect time. Cincinnati has lost nine straight. It is a golden opportunity for Nashville to pick up three points.
Based on Ben Wright’s projected standings, Nashville will finish the season at 53 points, level with Philadelphia.
This outcome would bring playoff soccer back to the Music City for the first round. However, a return to Subaru Park against the Philadelphia Union looms in the second round.
How Nashville could 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 don’t 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 (“CCL”). For the 2022 competition, MLS will award four spots in the annual competition.
- Supporters’ Shield Winner – New England Revolution (clinched)
- Regular Season Conference Champion – Seattle Sounders (current)
- Next Best Regular Season Record – Sporting Kansas City (current)
- MLS Cup Champion *
*If 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 want to qualify for Concacaf Champions League, they need to pass both Philadelphia and Colorado or Sporting Kansas City on the overall table.
Sporting Kansas City has a game in hand and likely cannot be caught. The best opportunity for Nashville is to hope for Colorado to suffer late-season collapse. There are two scenarios wherein Nashville could finish fourth in the overall standings.
Nashville finish with two wins and one draw (56 points)
Colorado lose out (@NER / @HOU / LAFC)
Philadelphia finish with five points or less in last three matches
Nashville wins out (@CIN / @ORL / RBNY)
Colorado finish with one draw and two losses
Philadelphia draw or lose at least one match (@TOR / CIN / @NYC)
Even if one of these improbable 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, they’re in solid position to qualify for another regional competition.
Nashville are on track to make 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 the two dominant leagues of North America. Next year will be the last iteration of the current tournament. Last month, MLS and LigaMX announced a massive revamp of the competition that will turn the competition 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 (“CCL”), the region’s premier club tournament. Here is how qualification shakes out currently.
1st – 69 pts – New England Revolution – Concacaf Champions League
2nd – 49 pts – Philadelphia Union – Leagues Cup
3rd – 49 pts – Nashville SC – Leagues Cup
4th – 46 pts – Orlando 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 next two match as the muddy playoff picture beings to clear.