Minnesota United clinched a MLS Cup playoff spot for the second consecutive season when MLS announced Thursday that its standings — and therefore its playoff qualifiers — will be based on points per game earned rather than its standard total points.
That’s because of scheduling imbalances caused by COVID-19 disruptions.
Multiple teams will finish the regular season on “Decision Day” Nov. 8 without playing all of the reconfigured 23 games. The Loons, for example, will play 22 games now that their postponed Oct. 11 game at FC Dallas won’t be rescheduled. They have three remaining games: Sunday at Sporting Kansas City and home games next week against Chicago and FC Dallas.
The Loons’ 2-1 victory earned Wednesday on a Colorado own goal in the 89th minute gives them an 8-5-6 record, or 30 points. Do the math and their points per game are 1.58.
On Thursday, that placed them fourth in a Western Conference where eight teams make the playoffs and the top four get a first-round home playoff game.
Under the straight points system, they’d be fifth, one point behind fourth-place Los Angeles FC after its 2-1 victory over Houston on Wednesday.
Tiebreaking procedures will start with total victories, goal differential per game, goals for per game, fewest disciplinary points and many others.
The Loons qualified for the MLS playoffs for the first time a season ago, finishing fourth in the West before losing their postseason opener 2-1 to the Los Angeles Galaxy at Allianz Field.
Last week, Loons coach Adrian Heath was asked about MLS using points per game to address the scheduling differences in which all teams won’t play the same number of games or equal home and away games.
He wasn’t a fan.
“I don’t think points per game is particularly fair for teams who had to play through Saturday-Wednesday-Sunday [schedules],” Heath said then. “That isn’t fair. I’m glad I’m not the guy making that decision on what we do because obviously there’s going to be people who are pleased and people who are unhappy.
“It’s a strange, strange year.”
All 14 Eastern Conference teams are aimed to play all 23 games, but the 12 West teams will not all play the same number of games.
MLS on Thursday said five postponed Colorado games won’t be rescheduled. The Rapids didn’t play a game for more than a month after a coronavirus outbreak among staff and players.
The top U.S. team based on points per game will get a place in the Concacaf Champions League while the winner of the Canadian Championship qualifies for the Champions League.