Playoff picture set on MLS Decision Day
Major League Soccer dubbed the last day of the regular season ”Decision Day” for good reason.
With 10 matches in the span of some four hours, there were six playoff spots still up for grabs, as well as two knockout-round byes, and the Supporters’ Shield winner still to be decided.
The Eastern Conference playoff picture was set following Sunday’s early matches. Toronto FC benefited from an expanded postseason field, earning the sixth and final playoff spot in the conference. It is the team’s first trip to the playoffs in nine years.
Ethan Finlay scored twice and the Columbus Crew routed visiting D.C. United 5-0 to secure second place and a knockout-round bye.
”I think any time you can go into the postseason winning and playing some of your best soccer, you’re on a good track,” Finlay said. ”We’re extremely happy about it, but playoffs are a whole other beast. It’s a home and away and we have to be able to manage that.”
The Montreal Impact beat Toronto 2-1, with Didier Drogba scoring twice inside a minute early in the second half, to earn the third seed. The two teams will meet again in the knockout round on Thursday in Montreal.
New England earned a spot as the fifth seed with a 3-1 victory over New York City FC. The Revolution will play fourth-seeded United on Wednesday at RFK Stadium.
Expansion Orlando City SC fell 1-0 at Philadelphia. The Lions went into the game with a very slight chance to make the playoffs, but they needed New England to lose while making up an eight-goal differential.
Following the match, Orlando City founder and president, Phil Rawlins, released a statement to the team’s supporters.
”On behalf of everyone at Orlando City, I can’t thank you enough for the incredible, record-breaking support that you’ve shown throughout our inaugural MLS season. We are humbled by the sea of purple that has surrounded the club, and the intensity of your support every single game,” Rawlins wrote.
The Lions, playing at the Citrus Bowl, set the league record for attendance for an expansion team.
The New York Red Bulls, playing in a later match at Chicago, had already secured a playoff berth in September and were guaranteed the top seed in the East regardless of the outcome of the regular-season finale.
But the Red Bulls were still wrestling with FC Dallas for the Supporters’ Shield when the day started, and won the award for league’s best overall record with a 2-1 victory over the Fire.
Dallas, which had secured the top seed in the West, defeated San Jose 2-1 to knock the Earthquakes out of the playoffs.
The Vancouver Whitecaps also earned a knockout-round bye with a 3-1 victory over Houston for the second seed.
Darlington Nagbe scored twice for the Portland, which defeated Colorado 4-1 to finish in third place. The Timbers will host sixth-place Sporting Kansas City on Thursday night.
”It’s been a long season coming down to one game,” Portland midfielder Jack Jewsbury said. ”We’ve got a lot of work to do to get to the MLS Cup.”
Kansas City edged Los Angeles 2-1, sending the fifth-seeded Galaxy to fourth-seeded Seattle for a knockout match on Wednesday night. The Sounders beat Real Salt Lake 3-1.
”We’re excited to be in the playoffs. What we talked about before the game is our moment has to be now. It didn’t matter to us if it was L.A., or if it was Portland, or if it was Vancouver, we wanted to be at home,” said Sounders coach Sigi Schmid. ”Now it’s L.A., so we want to take care of business on Wednesday and continue to move forward.”
It is Seattle’s seventh consecutive playoff appearance.
Toronto FC’s Sebastian Giovinco won the MLS Golden Boot award, finishing with 22 goals. His 16 assists gave him the tiebreaker over the Crew’s Kei Kamara, who also had 22 but was suspended for the match against United because of yellow card accumulation.
The Sounders set the league’s regular-season attendance record with an average of 44,245 per match. Seattle drew 55,435 to CenturyLink Field for Sunday’s Salt Lake match.
The winners of the knockout-round matches go on to face the top seeds in a two-legged playoff.
The Decision Day games were clustered together with just two starting times – 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. EDT – for the first time.