Analysis

Who will win MLS' wild West? A guide to the stretch run

USA TODAY Sports-Jay Biggerstaff

Only eight points separate first from eighth in the West standings. That makes this year's stretch-run schedule particularly pivotal.

We are part of The Trust Project What is it?

7. Sporting Kansas City

The road ahead: vs. Dallas, at Houston, at New York City FC (Wed), at Columbus, vs. New England, vs. New York Red Bulls (Wed, U.S. Open Cup final), vs. LA Galaxy, vs. Vancouver, at Minnesota, vs. Houston, at Real Salt Lake

Sporting Kansas City is one of the toughest teams in the league to beat at home, so let’s start with the fact that six of the team’s final 11 games will come in those safe confines. When you look at the road trips, however, there’s a lot to like.

Traveling to Houston has been tough this season and a Wednesday night game at NYCFC is a difficult one, but there are potential points to be had in Columbus, Minnesota and Real Salt Lake.

If SKC keeps to form at home and has a decent run on the road, it should be the favorites to finish atop the Western Conference – and they just might do so as U.S. Open Cup champions, too.

6. FC Dallas

USA TODAY Sports-Jerome Miron

USA TODAY Sports-Jerome Miron

The road ahead: at Sporting KC, vs. Houston (Wed), at Columbus, vs. NYRB, at Atlanta, vs. Seattle, at Minnesota, vs. Colorado (Wed), at Orlando City, at Colorado, at Seattle, vs. LA Galaxy

I like the way this schedule breaks down for Dallas, which will have to get through a tough two-game week in the near future, but has winnable matches at home against tough opponents.

Despite a road-heavy schedule, Dallas has good opportunities for points when away from home, including at Minnesota and at Colorado.

If FCD takes care of home games and steals some points on the road – and I like them to get eight of a possible 21 points on the road – I think the Hoops can settle in and finish in the top two in the Western Conference.

Home games against the New York Red Bulls and Seattle Sounders will be key in determining where Dallas finishes.

5. Seattle Sounders

The road ahead: vs. Minnesota, at Vancouver (Wed), vs. Portland, vs. LA Galaxy, at Dallas, at RSL, vs. Vancouver (Wed), at Philadelphia, vs. Dallas, vs Colorado

The Sounders have looked good of late, going unbeaten in their last eight games. The schedule sets up favorably to maintain that hot streak. A home game against Minnesota precedes a Cascadia turnaround: Vancouver and Portland back-to-back.

That won’t be easy, but Seattle should be looking at games against the LA Galaxy, Vancouver (at home), Philadelphia and Colorado as wins.

If the Sounders handle their must-win games, it puts them securely in the playoffs. A couple bonus results at Vancouver, against Portland and in two games against FC Dallas will determine how high they climb in the standings.

With six of the final 10 at home, this is a schedule that suits Seattle.

4. Portland Timbers

USA TODAY Sports-Troy Wayrynen

USA TODAY Sports-Troy Wayrynen

The road ahead: vs. NYRB, vs. Colorado (Wed), at Seattle, at NYCFC, at RSL, vs. Orlando City, at San Jose, vs. DC United, vs. Vancouver

The Timbers have a tough road if only because they have so few games left to stave off the opponents trying to creep up in the standings. That means every game has even more importance.

The slate itself isn’t easy. Road games in Seattle and NYCFC stand out as the toughest yet to come.

But if you’re the Timbers, you should be looking at home games against Columbus, D.C. United, Orlando and Vancouver as must-wins.

If they can manage those results and pick up a big win somewhere else, Portland will be in fine shape.

NEXT: The trio with the most to lose down the stretch run