FC Cincinnati is already 20% through their inaugural MLS campaign. While they’ve spent the majority of the first six weeks in a playoff spot, they likely have to improve their average point totals to earn a place in the postseason.
FCC’s 34-game season breaks up nicely into five segments of roughly seven matches each. Now that they have completed the first seven-game stretch, it’s time to take an early look at the MLS Eastern Conference playoff picture. Playoff talk already? Why not?
MLS announced changes to the MLS Cup playoff format last December. In previous years, only six teams from each conference advanced to the postseason. In 2019, seven teams from each conference will make a playoff run in a single-elimination format. Additionally, each conference’s table leader will receive a first-round bye.
Historical trends establish the waterline that FCC needs to reach to make the playoffs. This analysis takes the past four MLS Eastern Conference seasons (2015-2018) into consideration, representing the current MLS expansion era.
The seventh-place finisher in the East (highlighted in blue above) has averaged 1.30 points per game (PPG). This translates to at least 44 points over a 34-match season. Of note, the teams that compete for the final playoff spot are also earning roughly 31-33 points at home (1.80 to 1.95 PPG). A good rule of thumb is that FCC will need to earn at least two-thirds of the season’s points at home. The Orange & Blue will require a home record at Nippert of 8-3-6 (30 points) or similar. The rest they need to cover away from Cincinnati.
MLS Eastern Conference Table
FCC currently sits in seventh place after seven games in the Eastern Conference. If the season ended today, they would make the 2019 playoffs and potentially play the Columbus Crew in a “Hell is Real” first-round match. Can you imagine? However, their 1.14 PPG places them on a current path to fall at least 6 total points short of the targeted waterline.
Although the early part of the season has had its share of encouraging moments, including two wins in their first four matches, let’s pump the brakes on the expectations. The early schedule has been challenging overall, but FCC’s two wins came against the last place teams in each conference, Portland and New England. To be fair though, two of their losses came against two of the best teams in MLS. Losing 1,900+ miles away to Seattle and LAFC is not a reason for concern, especially given the fight they showed last week at the Banc.
FCC currently falls short on two key metrics, points per game (PPG) and Home PPG. Furthermore, keep in mind that:
- The club’s primary Designated Player and target striker is currently suspended. Until the MLS concludes its SABH review, no one knows Fanendo Adi’s future with the team.
- Over the next 7-match segment, four games are away from Cincinnati, including three-straight outside of the comfy confines of Nippert. Looking out to the end of June, FCC will play 7 of 11 games away from home.
- The depth of the club will be tested with the potential of 13 matches over a 71-day window. This includes two hopeful 2019 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup games in June. That amounts to a game every 5.5 days.
- Two Eastern Conference giants, currently beneath FCC in the table, are starting to stir — the 2018 Supporters’ Shield holders, New York Red Bulls, and the 2018 MLS Cup champions, Atlanta United.
The purpose of this article is not to dash your FCC playoff hopes, but to provide a realistic view of the marks FCC must hit to reach the postseason. Up to this point, the grit of the players and coaching staff has been admirable. They are a tough team to play against. However, from a macro perspective, after 1/5th of the season, they are trending just outside of the playoffs and close to where we predicted they would finish.
Look for more playoff updates as the season unfolds and stay tuned to Orange & Blue Press for more coverage of the 2019 season.