Vela and LAFC made history on Decision Day with playoffs set

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              Seattle Sounders fans in the supporters section hold a sign with the Iron Front three-arrow logo during the first half of an MLS soccer match between the Sounders and Minnesota United, Sunday, Oct. 6, 2019, in Seattle (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
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Carlos Vela and LAFC made MLS history on Decision Day.

Vela won the league’s Golden Boot award with a hat trick in LAFC’s 3-1 victory over the Colorado Rapids on Sunday in the team’s final regular-season match. He finished with 34 goals to break the Major League Soccer single-season record of 31 set last year by Atlanta’s Josef Martinez.

LAFC, already the Supporters’ Shield winners, also set the league’s single-season record for points with 72, one better than the New York Red Bulls‘ record last season.

“The most points in the history is really important because we showed how good we are,” Vela said afterward. “It shows how good our chemistry is but we want more. If we don’t win the MLS Cup then the record is nothing so we have to keep working.”

LAFC also tied the MLS single-season record for goals with 85 this season, matching the 1998 LA Galaxy.

The Bob Bradley-led team finished atop the Western Conference for a first-round bye in the playoffs, which were set on Sunday when all 12 league matches were played simultaneously.

Four teams went into the day vying for the final two playoff sports in the West. The Portland Timbers defeated the San Jose Earthquakes 3-1 in a win-and-in match, while Dallas routed Sporting Kansas City 6-0 to secure the seventh and final playoff spot.

“This was one of our team goals at the beginning of the season,” Dallas coach Luchi Gonzalez said. “We just entered the playoffs so this is a step in the right direction, it feels good, but after tonight it is done and we can either be content and happy to be in the playoffs, or we can be hungry for more, so we have the opportunity to gain momentum and to do something about that to gain more and earn more.”

The Rapids had needed a victory over LAFC and help from other results to make the field. The game was the last for Colorado goalkeeper Tim Howard, who is retiring after a stellar club career that included stints with Manchester United and Everton. He has been with the Rapids since 2016.

In the West’s first-round matches, Seattle (2) hosts Dallas (5), RSL (3) hosts the Timbers (6) and Minnesota (4) hosts the Galaxy (5). The playoffs are set to open on Oct. 19.

In the Eastern Conference, NYCFC finished atop the standings for the first-round bye. Defending MLS Cup champion Atlanta (2) hosts New England (7), Philadelphia (3) hosts the Red Bulls (6) and Toronto (4) hosts D.C. United (5).

Close behind Vela in the race for the Golden Boot was Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who finished the regular season with 30 goals for the Galaxy. Los Angeles needed a victory in Houston to secure home-field advantage, but fell 4-2.

That game was the last for Dynamo defender DaMarcus Beasley, who is also retiring after a 20-year club career. He left the game in the 89th minute to a standing ovation.

San Jose’s Chris Wondolowski, who broke Landon Donovan’s MLS record for career goals this season, scored Sunday to bring his total to 159. Afterward, the 15-year league veteran was undecided about his future. The Earthquakes were eliminated from the playoffs with the loss to the Timbers.

“These are a great group of guys. I enjoy going in there every day, I enjoy practice. That’s why I do need to reflect on this year and then decide the future,” Wondolowski said. “Talk with the fam, talk with the wife, decide where to go from here. But at the same time, I had an absolute blast.”

The final standings took on greater weight this season 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-legged 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.