MLS Decision Day: What is on the line?
Decision Day has finally arrived.
MLS concludes its 34-game schedule with a novel twist on Sunday. For the first time in league history, the relevant matches in the Eastern Conference and the Western Conference take place at the same time.
MLS PLAYOFF BASICS
|TEAMS||12 — 6 in the East, 6 in the West (up from 10 last year)|
|BYES||Top two seeds in East and West|
|KNOCKOUT ROUND||One game: 3 vs. 6, 4 vs. 5|
|CONFERENCE SEMIS/FINALS||Two games: Remaining teams paired by seeds after Knockout Round|
|MLS CUP||One game: Hosted by the finalist with the better record on Dec. 6|
The concurrent kickoffs — including the same start times for Supporters’ Shield contenders New York Red Bulls and FC Dallas — add intrigue to the final day. Some possibilities are laid out already with victories or defeats, while others might emerge as the matches unfold.
Seven teams remain in contention for the six playoff spots available in both conferences. Most of the Eastern Conference is focused on seeding, though Orlando City still harbors distant hopes of overhauling New England Revolution for the final playoff spot. The narrow margins out West leave several teams in peril if San Jose can procure a result at FC Dallas.
The frenetic uncertainty of the final day offers a fitting conclusion to a season brightened by a handful of shining stars and encumbered by a raft of inconsistent teams. It is time to resolve those issues and set the stage for the start of the playoffs on Wednesday.
Eastern Conference — 5 p.m. ET
Columbus Crew SC vs. D.C. United — FS1, FOX Sports GO, FOX Deportes
The outcome of this game decides second place in the Eastern Conference and provides one team with a bye through to the conference semifinals. Crew SC must claim all three points at home without suspended stars Federico Higuain and Kei Kamara to finish second, while a loss could drop Gregg Berhalter’s side down to fifth place if results fall poorly. United seals second place with a draw or a win. If Columbus procures the points, then United faces a home match in the Knockout Round on Wednesday or Thursday.
EASTERN CONFERENCE TABLE
|1.||x – New York Red Bulls||57||18|
|2.||x – D.C. United||51||3|
|3.||x – Columbus Crew SC||50||0|
|4.||x – Toronto FC||49||1|
|5.||x – Montréal Impact||48||3|
|6.||New England Revolution||47||-1|
Montréal Impact vs. Toronto FC — live look-ins on FS1
Both teams have their sights set on a home match in the Knockout Round with the proper result at Stade Saputo. Toronto FC guarantees a home playoff game — likely in the Knockout Round — with a victory in Quebec. A draw could prove enough to make that long-awaited postseason debut at BMO Field, too. Montréal needs a victory to procure a home date in the Knockout Round. Otherwise, the Impact is headed on the road in midweek.
New York City FC vs. New England Revolution — live look-ins on FS1
Philadelphia Union vs. Orlando City SC — live look-ins on FS1
Orlando City requires a miracle to pip New England to the final Eastern Conference playoff spot. The expansion side must defeat the Union by several goals and hope the Revs suffer a heavy defeat at Yankee Stadium. Both results must combine to eradicate the current deficit on goal difference (Revs at -1, Orlando City at -9). It is unlikely, but not impossible.
Western Conference + Supporters’ Shield race — 7 p.m. ET
Chicago Fire vs. New York Red Bulls
New York guarantees a second Supporters’ Shield in three years by matching or exceeding FC Dallas’ result against San Jose. A victory removes any and all doubt, while a draw or a defeat leaves the door open for FC Dallas. The one solace if things go astray against the Fire: The Red Bulls already are confirmed as the top seed in the Eastern Conference.
SUPPORTERS’ SHIELD RACE
|1.||New York Red Bulls||57||18|
FC Dallas vs. San Jose Earthquakes
The most critical match in the West promises high stakes for both teams. FC Dallas are guaranteed to finish first in the West, but they must better the Red Bulls’ result against the Fire in order to secure the first Supporters’ Shield in club history. San Jose needs at least a draw to stay alive for a playoff berth, while a victory — barring an unlikely series of results elsewhere — likely forces another team out of the mix.
Sporting Kansas City vs. LA Galaxy
Sporting Kansas City must win to ensure a playoff berth after suffering a surprising 2-0 defeat to Colorado in midweek. Any other outcome allows the Earthquakes to edge them out with a better result in Frisco. The stakes aren’t quite as stark for the Galaxy, but the defending MLS Cup champs require a victory to sidestep a Knockout Round match in midweek.
Seattle Sounders vs. Real Salt Lake
WESTERN CONFERENCE TABLE
|1.||x – FC Dallas||57||12|
|2.||x – LA Galaxy||51||11|
|3.||x – Vancouver Whitecaps||50||6|
|6.||Sporting Kansas City||48||2|
|7.||San Jose Earthquakes||47||3|
Seattle enters the final weekend with a playoff berth still hanging in the balance. Only a victory at CenturyLink Field guarantees a spot in the postseason. Any other result leaves the Sounders at the mercy of other teams. If the outcomes elsewhere fall just right, then the Sounders could even host a Knockout Round game in midweek.
Portland Timbers vs. Colorado Rapids
One point is enough to carry the Timbers into the playoffs and erase any faint doubts of dropping out of the postseason at the last possible instant. If the Timbers can quell the Rapids at Providence Park, then they are guaranteed a home playoff match, likely in the Knockout Round in midweek.
Vancouver Whitecaps vs. Houston Dynamo
Everything boils down to seeding now for the Whitecaps. A victory over the eliminated Dynamo places the Whitecaps in contention for second place. Any other result opens the door for other teams to push them down into an away match in the Knockout Round.