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Eastern Conference Becoming a Three Horse Race, With Toronto FC in the Lead

A look at the race for the top spot in the Eastern Conference as it plays out down the stretch.

MLS: Toronto FC at Chicago Fire Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

With a 2-1 win over the Chicago Fire last night, and some other results going their way yesterday and today, Toronto FC is once again the top team in the East. This time, they will be looking to hold on to that lead for the rest of the season.

As the 2016 season draws to an end, the MLS Eastern Conference has in many ways become a three horse race between Toronto and the two clubs from New York. The Philadelphia Union and Montreal Impact are at least in the conversation as well, but have a lot of ground to make up and are running out of time.

Toronto FC definitely has the inside track to the title, as all but one of their remaining games will be played at BMO Field. Their next game might be the biggest of the season, hosting the New York Red Bulls with a chance to cement themselves at the top.

Here’s a look at the race for the Eastern Conference crown, and the three teams fighting to win it.

Toronto FC

Record: 13-7-8 (46 points) 41 Goals For 29 Goals Against (+12 GD)

Matches Remaining: 6

Matches at Home/Away: 5 Home/ 1 Away

Key Matches: Sept 18 vs. New York Red Bulls, Sept 24 vs. Philadelphia Union

Matches vs. East/West: 6 vs. East

Remaining Schedule: Sept 18 vs. New York Red Bulls, Sept 24 vs. Philadelphia Union, Sept 28 vs. Orlando City, Oct 1 vs. D.C. United, Oct 16 @Montreal Impact, Oct 23 vs. Chicago Fire

As mentioned above, Toronto FC certainly has the easiest of the remaining schedules. The fact that five of their last six matches will be played at BMO Field, and that they have matches in hand, makes them the definite favourite to win the Conference.

It also helps that their fate is in their own hands in the fact that they play only Eastern Conference opposition for the rest of the season. They have six point matches against the New York Red Bulls, Philadelphia Union and the Montreal Impact.

At the same time, however, Toronto will have to face a lot of teams like Montreal, D.C. United and Orlando City down the stretch who will be desperate for points to make the playoffs. But if Toronto’s home form continues, they will be just fine.

New York City FC

Record: 12-9-8 (44 points) 49 Goals For 50 Against (-1 GD)

Matches Remaining: 5

Matches at Home/Away: 3 home/ 2 away

Key Matches: Sept 17 vs. FC Dallas

Matches vs. East/West: 3 vs. East/ 2 vs. West

Remaining Schedule: Sept 17 vs. FC Dallas, Sept 23 vs. Chicago Fire, Sept 30 vs. Houston Dynamo, October 16 vs. D.C. United, October 23 vs. Columbus Crew

Besides their next match against FC Dallas, which actually could hav big implications for the Supporters Shield, New York’s schedule is

Four of their five matches come against teams either outside the playoffs or on the playoff bubble, and only two of those matches come on the road. They have all the ingredients to push Toronto till the end.

The unfavourable part of their remaining schedule, however, is the fact that they don’t get to play any of the teams in the race. They will have to take care of their own business and hope that other teams slip up along the way. They also have a poor goal difference, which could cost them.

New York Red Bulls

Record: 12-9-8 (44 points) 49 GF 37 GA (+12 GD)

Matches Remaining: 5 (+2 in CCL)

Matches at Home/Away: 3 home/ 2 away

Key Matches: Sept 18 vs. Toronto FC, October 1 vs. Philadelphia Union

Matches vs. East/West: 5 vs. East

Remaining Schedule: Sept 18 vs. Toronto FC, Sept. 24 vs. Montreal Impact, Oct 1 vs. Philadelphia Union, Oct 16 vs. Columbus Crew, Oct 23 vs. Philadelphia Union

The Red Bulls have done well to get themselves in this conversation after a difficult start to the 2016 season. However, it would take something spectacular for them to climb the rest of the way up the standings.

New York has by far the most difficult remaining schedule, starting in a week’s time against Toronto FC. They also play two matches against the Philadelphia Union, and a match against the Montreal Impact. On top of this, they have two CONCACAF Champions League matches to play, one of which is in Guatemala.

More than anyone, however, the New York Red Bulls really have a chance to shape how these last few matches play out in the Eastern Conference, as four of their final five games come against teams currently in the top five.