Ranked! The toughest roads to the playoffs in MLS' Eastern Conference

USA TODAY Sports-Vincent Carchietta

It's tight in the East standings, where the top eight teams are clustered within a 17-point spectrum. And the schedule could make all the difference.

7. New York City FC

Road ahead: vs. New England, at NYRB, vs. Sporting KC (Wed), vs. Portland, at Colorado, vs. Houston, at Montreal (Wed), at Chicago, at New England, vs. Columbus.

New York City FC has to like how the back end of its season lines up. There are some tough games, for sure, including a trip across the Hudson River to face the rival Red Bulls.

But outside of a visit to Chicago, the other tough games come at home, including a Wednesday night game against Sporting KC and games against Portland and Houston.

NYCFC has a manageable slate ahead, and its toughest stretch might be a Houston-at Montreal-at Chicago run in late September. NYCFC might be considered the favorite to finish second behind Toronto FC.

6. Chicago Fire

The road ahead: vs. Toronto, vs Minnesota, at Montreal, vs. New York Red Bulls, vs. D.C. United, at Philadelphia, at San Jose (Wed), vs. NYCFC, vs. Philadelphia, at Houston

Chicago, too, has to consider the back third of its schedule manageable. Six of the final 10 games are at home, where the Fire has been unbeatable this season.

There are some doozies at home, though, that will definitely test a team that has been among the biggest surprises in MLS this year.

Toronto, the New York Red Bulls and NYCFC all visit Toyota Park, the three teams Chicago is competing with for a top seed in the Eastern Conference.

It doesn’t make for an easy schedule at all, but Fire players know they control their own destiny – and they get all three of those games at home.

5. Orlando City

The road ahead: vs. Columbus, vs. Vancouver, at New England, at D.C. United, at Atlanta, at Portland, vs. New England (Wed), vs. FC Dallas, vs. Columbus, at Philadelphia

Orlando City needs desperately to break out of a slump that dates back to May, and their schedule gives them some opportunities. Back-to-back home games against Columbus and Vancouver is a prime opportunity to try to get back in the wins column.

The toughest task in this schedule, though: four consecutive road games upcoming, three of which are against Eastern Conference rivals.

If Orlando City wants a shot at the postseason, it needs to find a way to get some points there.

One thing the Lions have to like: They get two shots at Columbus, one of the teams they’re trying to catch for a playoff spot. Those games both come at home, too, which gives the Lions an edge.

4. New York Red Bulls

USA TODAY Sports-Noah K. Murray

USA TODAY Sports-Noah K. Murray

The road ahead: at Portland, vs. NYCFC, at Dallas, at Chicago, vs. Philadelphia, at Sporting KC (Wed, U.S. Open Cup final), at Columbus, vs. D.C. United (Wed), at Toronto, vs. Vancouver, vs. Atlanta, at D.C. United

Where Chicago has the advantage of playing most of its toughest games at home, the Red Bulls will have to hit the road to try to climb up the Eastern Conference standings.

A home game against NYCFC aside, the Red Bulls have tough road games in Portland, Dallas, Chicago and Toronto, and then end the season in the final game at RFK Stadium against a bitter rival, D.C. United. That’s no easy slate.

The Red Bulls have been on a good streak, though, and there are some very winnable games at home, including against Philadelphia, D.C. and Vancouver.

If the Red Bulls keep climbing the ladder, they deserve plenty of respect for doing it the hard way. They also have the U.S. Open Cup final wedged in there on Sept. 20 at Sporting KC.

NEXT: Three playoff chasers with the toughest roads ahead