Checking In On The MLS Title Picture

NYCFC, Heber, MLS
Orlando City’s Lamine Sane (22) defends against NYCFC forward Heber (9). Photo: Noah K. Murray-USA Today Sports

With just less than a quarter of the MLS season remaining, it’s a good time to check in on the title picture before the stretch run. Keep in mind, due to the new playoff format being implemented for 2019 the season is shorter than it has been in the past, which means the postseason is going to arrive quickly. With that in mind here is a look at which teams are contenders as of the middle of August?

LAFC

LAFC is the easy first team to mention. The Carlos Vela-led, still-new franchise with an exciting stadium and devoted fan base has quickly become the most exciting thing going in MLS and is currently leading both conferences with 58 points. Furthermore, betting firms appear to trust that LAFC’s strength is reliable. With some of the world’s leading sportsbooks having migrated to New Jersey and a handful of other states, the betting outlook on U.S. sports is perhaps more reliable than ever in 2019. And right now one would have a hard time finding a single one of these bookies not tabbing LAFC for a title.

NYCFC

If there’s a betting consensus on LAFC as the leading contender at the moment, there isn’t necessarily much agreement as to where the biggest challenge may come from. Considering preseason outlook, total talent, and performance to date though, NYCFC still has to be mentioned here. New York is third in the Eastern Conference, so it’s not as if it’s a surefire title challenge. But many would still agree that at their best, the Pigeons are still just about as good as any American club team.

Atlanta United

A few weeks ago we might have looked at Atlanta as being behind NYCFC on a list like this, but at this point, we have to consider them equal at least. Indeed it was covered right here when NYCFC recently came up a goal short in a match in Atlanta, which left United a point up in the standings. There’s not a clear line between the teams, and one wonders how a rematch may turn out on a neutral field. Right now though, Atlanta and New York figure to be neck-and-neck behind LAFC.

Minnesota United

Minnesota can match Atlanta for points at the moment but looks to be the weaker side simply by virtue of conference placement. While the East has a cluster of potential contenders atop the tables, the West features several good sides looking up at the one great one in LAFC. For that matter, the oddsmakers are in some cases actually quite down on Minnesota’s title chances. But this late in the season we can’t ignore that United is technically in second place in its conference.

Philadelphia Union

To highlight anyone else in the Western Conference would essentially be to pick a team at random; as of this writing, the LA Galaxy (third place) and FC Dallas (eighth place) are separated by just four points. So to round out a list of five potential contenders, we’ll look back to the East and the Philadelphia Union. Somewhat surprisingly out in front with 45 points, Philadelphia has had an awfully impressive campaign holding off the likes of Atlanta and New York. Goal differential, an occasionally shaky defense, and the lack of a dominant go-to scorer all suggest Philadelphia could be due for late-season regression, but it’s hard to deny results 27 matches in. The Union could well be right in the mix with these other clubs.