MLS x NBA: 2018 Playoff Franchise Comparisons

With just under two weeks left in the Major League Soccer regular season, and the NBA regular season kicking off tonight, the MLS playoff picture in finally starting to crystalize while in the NBA every team is hopeful. Diehard MLS fans across the country are wondering whether this year could be “the year” for their team but what if you're just a casual soccer fan and you haven’t picked an MLS team to support yet? Don’t worry, Black Arrow has you covered with an original 2018 MLS Playoff preview that gives each MLS hopeful an equivalent NBA team and helps you learn about the MLS through similarities across franchises.

Our MLS Eastern Conference Preview:

One Seed Atlanta United (NBA Franchise Comparison: Golden State Warriors)

Martinez, Almiron and Barco vs Curry, Thompson and Durant, both teams are stacked with deadly combinations of offensive players. But whether you love them or envy them, there’s no denying these MLS players have changed how front offices look at team building just like their NBA counterparts. Atlanta haven’t managed to capture a Championship that cements their league dominance yet but we’ll cut them a little slack given that this is only their second year in the league and they’re already mentioned amongst championship favorites.

Two Seed NY Red Bulls (NBA Franchise Comparison: San Antonio Spurs)

By now both franchises might have forgotten what it means to end the season without the playoffs. For the Spurs it’s been since 96-97 and for the Red Bulls it’s been since 09. Somehow in the face of aging stars and trades, these teams manage to retool, reload and keep making the postseason. One key similarity, and likely a driving source of their successes, is each team’s distinction as a leader in their respective leagues at developing talent. Whether it is players like Tyler Adams or Aaron Long, it seems like the Red Bull have found the Spurs’ secret sauce, as all young talent who walk through these training facilities are improving daily.

Three Seed NYCFC (NBA Franchise Comparison: Houston Rockets)

When you think Houston Rockets, you think James Harden and you think getting buckets. Similarly, when you think NYCFC, you think David Villa and you think scoring goals. With +12 goals in each of his 4 seasons in MLS, he is still a force to be reckoned with in the league and the team will likely go as far as he can carry them. Both are predicated on clinical offenses and controlling the game’s tempo, both have fans claiming their teams could be heirs to the league’s throne, but neither has quite yet managed to put together all the pieces and steal the crown.

Four Seed Philadelphia Union (NBA Franchise Comparison: Philadelphia 76ers)

“The process” has run its course for both Philly teams and it’s time for some of the players that each team has invested in to start producing. However, the struggles through tough rebuilding years already seem to be paying dividends for both. The 76ers made the playoffs for the first time since 2012, and the Union just locked up a playoff spot for only the second time in the past seven seasons. Also, regardless of what happens in these playoffs, the Union already made a nice run to the Open Cup final this year that was an accomplishment for Philly fans to be excited about.

Five Seed Columbus Crew (NBA Franchise Comparison: Minnesota Timberwolves)

Both teams have gambled on prying all-star caliber players from teams in major markets in the hopes that a change of scenery would do them good. In the case of the Minnesota, Butler did manage to get the Timberwolves back to the playoffs for the first time since ’05, but the marriage is now headed for a bad divorce. In the case of Columbus, Zardes has come over and lit up the league with 16 goals so far, leaving Columbus hoping that they can sustain his performance for more than just the one year.

Six Seed D.C. United (NBA Franchise Comparison: LA Lakers)

Both teams have struggles over recent years given their championship pedigrees but are in the midst of major rebuilds. D.C. United was left for dead in last place as recently as July, until of course, the arrival of Wayne Rooney (England & Manchester United’s All-Time Leading Goalscorer). Since then, he has managed to raise the game of all the players around him and their place in the standings, just like the Lakers are hoping Lebron can do with their young core. However, the question still remains whether the addition of one superstar is enough to truly threaten existing title contenders once the playoffs roll around. United have one foot in the door and control their playoff destiny with three games left.

Seven Seed Montreal Impact (NBA Franchise Comparison: Miami Heat)

Both teams seam to be stuck in the mud a bit since their big 3’s disbanded. In 2016 Montreal paired together three all-stars in Drogba, Piatti and Ciman, that were amongst the best at their positions. Drogba was no Lebron by the time he came to the MLS but he was still the superstar type player that the Impact could use today. If both make the playoffs, it’s likely a safe bet that they'll be bounced quick. Unfortunately for the Impact, at this point in the year they are on the outside looking in with only two games to go.

Our Western Conference Breakdown:

One Seed FC Dallas (NBA Franchise Comparison: Portland Trailblazers)

Before the NBA or MLS seasons start you’re likely to expect both these teams into their respective playoffs, but in recent years both have fallen short of what their playoff seeding would suggest. The Trailblazers seemed to be a team trending upwards last year when improving their 8 seed finish in 2017 to a 3 seed finish in 2018. They fooled us all though by getting swept in the first round by a New Orleans team that lost their second best player mid-season and had only made the playoffs once before in the Anthony Davis era. Similarly FC Dallas finished first in the Western Conference in 2015 and 2016 (missing the MLS final both years), and then finished 7th in 2017 and missed the playoffs completely. We will have to wait and see what Dallas’ 1 seed means this year.

Two Seed LAFC (NBA Franchise Comparison: Utah Jazz)

Both these teams seem to be ahead of schedule when it comes to laying a foundation for continued future success. Last year the Jazz had a coming out party making it to the conference semi-finals and in their first MLS season LAFC have burst out the gate like few expansion teams ever have. With investors like Magic Johnson, international stars like Carlos Vela, and a brand new home like Banc of California Stadium, LAFC haven’t quite flown under the radar like Utah did last year with Donovan Mitchell, but they’re hoping to at least match Utah’s playoff run.

Three Seed Sporting Kansas City (NBA Franchise Comparison: Boston Celtics)

Just like the Celtics, Sporting KC are a well-rounded team being led by arguable the best coach in the league. Peter Vermes isn’t as young as Brad Stevens but his consistency and quality is evident in the rumors that linked him to the vacant US Men’s National Team Head Coach position. When looking for signs of a well-balanced team, look no further than the fact Sporting KC still don't have a player with 10 goals yet, but are suceeding by sharing the scoring load across the entire squad. Also, similar to Brad Stevens and the Celtics’ talent for drafting and developing players, Peter Vermes and his staff at Sporting KC are building a reputation for identifying youth talent, signing them to their academy and then develop them into pros earning minutes.

Four Seed Portland Timbers (NBA Franchise Comparison: Toronto Raptors)

Sometimes franchises make coaching changes that leave fans scratching their heads, and both these franchises have gone through those kinds of changes at the top recently. Last season Toronto finished first in the East but fired Dwane Casey because he couldn’t get past Lebron. At the end of last season the Timbers and Caleb Porter mysteriously parted ways after a season where the Timbers also finished first in their conference. The Timbers seem to have found the right replacement in Giovanni Savarese, who has the team on the verge of locking up a playoff bid, and the Raptors will hope for similar success with their new appointment Nick Nurse.

Five Seed Seattle Sounders (NBA Franchise Comparison: Cleveland Cavaliers)

Both these teams are coming off back-to-back finals appearances but expectations can be hard to match after losing star players. For Cleveland, that was Lebron deciding to take his talents to LA. For Seattle, that was Jordan Morris going down with a torn ACL right before the season kicked off. You can bank on the Sounders falling short of their second place finish in the West last year but they’re hoping the slide doesn’t go so far as them missing out on the playoff completely. Like the Cavs, this scenario isn’t likely but not impossible with three games remaining.

Six Seed Real Salt Lake (NBA Franchise Comparison: Milwaukee Bucks)

In Internationals they trust. Milwaukee owes its success to Giannis “The Greek Freak” Antetokounmpo and most of Real Salt Lake’s success can be attributed to it’s core of Damir Kreilach (Croatia), Albert Rusnak (Slovakia), Jefferson Savarino (Venezuela) and Joao Plata (Ecuador). Both teams have struggled to try and earn the title “playoff team” but at the moment Real Salt Lake still controls its own destiny with two games left.

Seven Seed LA Galaxy (NBA Franchise Comparison: OKC Thunder)

Both these teams are led by superstars that are certified BOX OFFICE. Whether you tune-in to watch Russell Westbrook’s thundering dunks or Zlatan Ibrabaskethimovic’s acrobatic finishes, you’re almost certain to get your money’s worth. Unfortunately for both teams, neither has determined how to fit the right pieces around their superstar and have struggled with team chemistry issues. At this point the Galaxy’s fate lays in another team’s hands, but being behind only 1 point, expect this to come down to the last game of the season.

Let us know what you think of our comparisons, which you agree with, which you disagree with and why, in the comments below.