Decision Day _ and Golden Boot Day _ looms for MLS

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              Los Angeles FC's Carlos Vela traps the ball with his chest during the first half of an MLS soccer match against Toronto FC Saturday, Sept. 21, 2019, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
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Major League Soccer is bracing for Sunday’s annual Decision Day, the final day of the season when teams scramble — all at the same time — for playoff spots and position.

This season’s regular-season finale also could be called Golden Boot Sunday, as Carlos Vela and Zlatan Ibrahimovic vie for the most goals.

Vela has tied the single-season MLS record for goals with 31, a mark set by Atlanta’s Josef Martinez last year. But close behind him is Ibrahimovic, the enigmatic Swede who stars for the rival LA Galaxy, with 29 goals and a four-game scoring streak.

Ibrahimovic, who turned 38 this week, suggested that the only reason Vela has more goals is because he’s played in more games.

“I have 29 goals in 28 games. If I would have the same amount (of) games like the other ones, it would be different,” he said. “But now I’m chasing someone that has more games than me. But if we score we score, we’ll have to see what the end number will be. We’ll see. If there still is a possibility, we’ll try.”

He’d rather have the victory, anyway.

“I prefer the collective win,” he said. “When we win that game, that is more important. Then with the collective success, the individual success comes with it.”

The Galaxy will play the Dynamo in Houston to try and secure home-field advantage in the opening round of the playoffs.

LAFC’s game at home against the Colorado Rapids figures into more than just the Golden Boot race. The Supporters’ Shield winners could set the single-season record for points (71), set by the Red Bulls last year. LAFC, which has already secured a bye for the first round, has 69 points going into the match.

Additionally, LAFC has scored 82 goals this season, three goals away from the MLS single-season record set by the Galaxy in 1998.

A win Sunday is also important to the Rapids, who are still fighting for their first playoff appearance since 2016, but they’ll need help from results in other matches to rise above the line. Colorado is playing under new coach Robin Fraser, who was hired in late August.

Four teams are vying for the final two playoff sports in the Western Conference when Decision Day’s 12 matches kick off simultaneously on Sunday afternoon.

The Portland Timbers are currently in sixth in the standings with 46 points, followed by FC Dallas with 45, San Jose with 44 and Colorado with 42. In addition to the Rapids match in Los Angeles, Dallas hosts Sporting Kansas City, which has already been eliminated.

The Timbers and the Earthquakes go head-to-head in Portland, with a win assuring a berth.

“It’s a must win. That’s all it is,” said Portland defender Zarek Valentin. “The focus starts now because we know that we control our own destiny in terms of winning and getting in and that’s all you can ask for at the end of the year. Obviously, we wish we could be a little bit higher, but we believe in ourselves and luckily it’s in our hands. We’ve just got to get out there, get some points and get in the playoffs.”

Just like the teams in the West are still jockeying to play at home in the opening round, a similar scramble is happening in the Eastern Conference. D.C. United, the New York Red Bulls and Toronto FC each have the opportunity to finish in fourth.

The final standings took on greater weight under the league’s new playoff format. MLS shortened its season by a month this year, going to single-elimination playoffs and setting the MLS Cup final on Nov. 10 — its earliest finish since 2002. Because the league expanded to 24 teams, MLS also expanded the playoffs to include 14 teams, seven from each conference.

The all-knockout postseason replaces the two-leg format for the conference semifinals and finals that the league started using in 2003.

In making the change, MLS Commissioner Don Garber said the new format rewards top regular-season records because they’ll get greater home-field advantage. The shorter season will also ensure down the road that MLS wraps up before the start of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, set to start on Nov. 21.