The hunt is on for FC Dallas to clinch their place in the playoffs. They are also well placed to set up a playoff game at home. Let’s dive into the data and do our best to gauge how many points it will take.

Points per game

This chart probably doesn’t care to be this busy… but neither does a league have a business changing playoff formats 3-4 times over the course of ten years.

Points per game in the Western Conference standings.

Such is life in a young league like Major League Soccer, however, and I’ll do a quick breakdown of each format to help ground you in our current playoff picture.

Playoff format: 2012 – 2014

This playoff format consisted of five playoff teams in each conference. The first match was a one-match knockout round between 4th and 5th place, hosted by the 4th place team. The conference semifinals and subsequent games were in home-and-away aggregate goals format. This led to teams 1st through 3rd earning byes to the conference semifinals.

New Format for Playoffs 1: 2013 – 2018

This playoff format consisted of six playoff teams in each conference. The first round of matches were knockout rounds between 3rd and 6th place and 4th and 5th place, hosted by the 3rd and 4th place teams. The conference semifinals and subsequent games were in home-and-away aggregate goals format. This led to the 1st and 2nd place teams earning byes to the conference semifinals.

New Format for Playoffs 2: 2019 – Present

The current playoff format consists of seven playoff teams in each conference. The first round of matches are knockout rounds between the 2nd and 7th place, 3rd and 6th place, and 4th and 5th place teams, with higher seeds. The conference semifinals and subsequent games are also knockout rounds, with higher seeds (and a better MLS Cup Finals hosting record). This leads to 1st place teams earning a bye to the Conference Semifinals.

Format of temporary playoffs: 2020 (COVID)

In 2020, MLS held a special playoff format due to the COVID pandemic, which resulted in some games being postponed and then canceled in favor of the playoffs starting on schedule. This format consisted of eight Western Conference playoff teams. All playoffs were knockout rounds, starting with the quarterfinals between 1st-8th, 2nd-7th, 3rd-6th, and 4th-5th, with higher seeds throughout the playoffs .

Hopefully when you take a look at the table above it will help you get an idea of ​​how many teams have qualified for a bye, hosted a home game and qualified for the playoffs over the past decade. You can also take a closer look at what’s important to us – trends in points/games played required to stage a home playoff game.

Two major points jump out at me:

  • The gap between 1st and 8th has narrowed sharply over the past decade. It’s intuitive, since there are now 14 teams in the Western Conference (against only 9 in 2012). More teams mean 8th is now in the middle of the pack and will see higher point totals than before.
  • In years when a team runs away with the 1st place title, the points required to host a home game are usually lower. This is best evidenced in 2012where 4th place is only required on 1.26 points/MP or in 2019where 4th place is only required on 1.5 points/MP when, coincidentally, LAFC also ran away with the title.
Points per Boxplot game per rank
Points per Boxplot game per rank

In the boxplot above you can see the general point range for each rank in the table. Our goal is to earn a playoff host spot (4th place or better), which has one of the widest ranges on the board, requiring anywhere from 1.4 – 1.7 points/MP During the last decade. The sweet spot and most likely number are around our median of 1.56 points/MP.

So what is the current outlook for Los Toros?

Below is a table of the current season based on Points/MP. This makes it possible to compare seasons of different lengths, as well as account for those pesky ongoing games, which can be sneaky when determining the standings.

For example, Minnesota United are currently below Dallas in the table by one point, but their two games in progress mean they are reasonably likely to let FCD through if season averages hold.

The race is on!
The race is on!

There is a very close race leading into the latter part of the season with 3rd and 5th only 0.12 Pts/MP apart.

Another thing to point out is that LAFC is getting away with the 1st place West title somewhat (albeit after last night’s game – potentially a late challenge from Austin?). This influences the lower playoff host line (LAFC wins many games and keeps the entire conference’s point total low).

So what will it take for FC Dallas to claim one of the extremely valuable home playoff spots?

The last decade of seasons would tell us 1.56 points/MP i.e. about 53 points in total. FC Dallas currently have 42 points with 6 games to play, which means they should pick up 11 points more or a huge 1.83! Points/MP in the last stretch to feel comfortable.

When we take a look at the remaining schedule, we get an even clearer picture of what it’s going to take.

FCD's remaining schedule.
FCD’s remaining schedule.

How much bigger can a pair of matches be than FCD’s next two? Your two biggest contenders for a playoff spot at home, back to back. The potential swing of a win for either team in these clashes is huge and very significant for the club’s end-of-season standings.

Yes, that makes this weekend’s home game with Real Salt Lake a must win in terms of organizing a playoff game.

While FC Dallas is also set to face LAFC the next game, they can play them at home for that fight, boosting their chances against a team that has at least proven themselves vulnerable on the road.

San Jose, Colorado and Sporting KC’s last three matchups are as favorable as it gets, with all three in the West’s bottom four. It will be more than important for FC Dallas to take care of business with these teams and finish the season strong.

My prediction

If you had asked me after the Philadelphia game, I would have told you that we were almost certainly heading towards hosting a playoff game. The rout in Nashville has shaken my confidence a bit – but I still feel good about this team’s chances of hosting its first playoff game since the 2018 loss to Portland.

However, the margins are narrow.

The team should reunite if Jesus Ferreira is ready to face RSL, but if the Nashville game has shaken their confidence or Jesus isn’t 100% for the home stretch, that could be the difference.

We’ll see over the next few weeks as Nico Estevez tries to prove his managerial ability in his first year as FC Dallas boss.