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NYCFC’s Magic Numbers for the playoffs? Not good

We did the math, and NYCFC are in big trouble.

NYCFC head coach Nick Cushing has done the math, and his team is in big trouble

Fun fact about me: I absolutely love spreadsheets and statistics. Much of my day-to-day work involves number-crunching data and analytics, spotting trends to take advantage of. I don’t mean to brag but I learned to use my grandfather’s slide rule before I was ten.

Yeah, I’m a big nerd. But, if you’re a New York City FC supporter, you don’t need a spreadsheet to know in your gut what I’m about to break down.

Our crack statisticians crunch the numbers.

The hopes of the Pigeons continuing their seven-year MLS Cup playoffs streak are in MASSIVE trouble.

There are numerous reasons why New York City are in the dire straits they are now, with just ten matches left in the 2023 season, sitting at only 26 points and 13th place in the Eastern Conference: Lack of a clinical striker, lack of clinical finishing from our wingers and midfield, injuries (which also involve a clinic).

But now, with only ten matches remaining, and only 30 points on the table to earn, NYCFC need to go on a quality run of form to have any chance of making the MLS Cup Playoff field as one of the top nine seeds, which New York City sits four points out of ninth position at present. Luckily, with seven of the final ten matches at home, there’s potential to make this happen. (Even if two of those potentially are at Red Bull Arena. Ick.)

Crunching Magic Numbers

To help us with some calculations on just how dire the situation is, we visited with the fine folks at for a look at the Eastern Conference table, as of the Leagues Cup break on July 16th.

Based on NYCFC’s current performance and the performance of their ten remaining opponents, City has only a 20% chance to finish in the Eastern Conference Top 9. FC Cincinnati are the runaway favorite to take the East No 1 seed, with a 91% chance of winning the conference and its CONCACAF Champions Cup berth, and likely the Supporters Shield as the top club for 2023.

But there is a catch: This form does not include NYCFC’s new additions of Algerian striker Mounsef Bakrar and the news earlier today of the arrival of Norweigan CB Birk Risa, nor the recent return of Thiago Martins to the team from his long injury, and whatever other lineup additions Sims and Lee are cooking up in NYCFC’s Front Office, fueled by the upcoming sale of Taty Castellanos to Lazio. All of those wild cards could change City’s fate drastically — or like Toronto, could see the changes fall flat and lead to #CushingOut at season’s end.

The hard non-probability numbers to know for our final 10 matches are NYCFC’s “Magic Numbers,” which, if you’re familiar with baseball standings, is the number of wins and opponent’s losses you need to secure a place in the playoffs (or a division title, wild-card spot, and so on). also put together a chart on the winning and losing “Magic Number” for all positions on the table, and how many wins and losses (at 3 points each) will lead to a mathematical elimination from making the MLS Cup Playoffs.

Right now, New York City are looking up at Orlando, Columbus, Atlanta, Chicago, DC, and Montréal on the MLS Cup playoff-securing Magic Number chart. More importantly, NYCFC do not control their own destiny, unlike those teams mentioned above. In other words, while those other teams simply need to win a certain number of games, NYCFC need to win games and for other teams to lose.

Right now, NYCFC have a Losing Magic Number of 8. That’s the number of matches New York City need to lose to be eliminated from playoff contention. That means dropping 24 of the final 30 points. But that number decreases as well as teams in ninth place add wins.

How many points do NYCFC need?

There are two ways to figure out how many points are needed for the ninth-place position. Either you average the point total of ninth-place teams in past seasons, or you figure out the average portion of points the ninth-place team earned.

Enter my Playoff Matrix spreadsheet, with the point totals of the East and West Conferences of MLS for the past 5 seasons (not counting 2020’s COVID season).

As you can see, the average point position of the ninth-place team is 40.9 points, with a low of 36 and a high of 47 in the past seasons. Now, some of these higher-point 9th place finishes were due to expansion, as you can see, the 9th place’s points total is on the upswing, with more draws and wins against weaker teams fueling that.

Math is for the birds. But for The Pigeons, the math is all that matters for the final 10-game stretch.

Or you can figure it out this way:

  • 1,479 points are up for grabs this season in the 493 MLS league matches
  • East Conference Teams earned 45.76% of the 966 points already played (96 draws killed off 96 of those points – 9.9% of all available pts.)
  • Ninth-place DC United currently have 30 points, at 1.25 points per match
  • Extrapolating that out to the full 34-match season, that means 42.5 points should put you in ninth place

Looking at these calculations, New York City FC needs to get somewhere in the range of 43 points to have a decent shot at a playoff berth, and 49 points to clinch.

That means NYCFC can only drop seven points the rest of the season to be nearly certain of a playoff spot. They will need to only drop 12 to 13 points the rest of the way to be somewhere in contention on Decision Day.

We’ll keep you updated week-to-week as the numbers change when the season picks back up in mid-August.

Remember, it’s the hope that kills you.