Major League Soccer likes to promote the final day of the regular season as Decision Day, but we could see all 12 playoff spots secured after this weekend’s action, a full week ahead of time.
Seven teams are alive for the four unclaimed playoff spots, and two of those teams would require some serious late collapses to lose out on the postseason.
The Columbus Crew and Portland Timbers are comfortably above the playoff lines, with the Crew needing just one win or two draws to ensure a return to the postseason. The Timbers need just a draw in either of their two matches to secure a berth, but Giovanni Savarese’s side has its sights set on trying to pass rival Seattle in the standings to earn home-field in a potential Cascadia Derby playoff clash.
Wayne Rooney has helped D.C. United complete an incredible climb from last place in the East to a playoff position, but it will take one more win to ensure a return to the postseason for D.C. for the first time since 2015. D.C. is four points clear of Montreal for the final playoff spot in the East, and could still make a late run for a home playoff game if it can continue its torrid form.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic is hoping to help the LA Galaxy to a similar late-season run into the playoffs, but the Galaxy will need some help to get to the postseason. The Galaxy must win both of their remaining games and hope that Real Salt Lake doesn’t beat Portland this weekend in its final regular season match.
There is plenty more on the line this weekend, from the Supporters’ Shield, to home-field advantage in the knockout rounds, as well as the precious first-round byes now in play in the Western Conference. Adding to the suspense is the fact all Eastern Conference matches will be played at the same time on Sunday, with the full slate of Western Conference matches taking place two hours later.
Here are the key things to watch for this weekend in MLS:
D.C. United eyeing more than a playoff spot
When Wayne Rooney arrived in MLS three months ago, few would have envisioned the English star helping D.C. climb all the way into a playoff spot. An 11-4-3 record since Rooney’s arrival has not only helped D.C. climb into a playoff position, but now there’s a chance the club could move as high as fourth place in the East.
Unbeaten in eight matches, D.C. United faces a struggling New York City FC side that has just one win in eight, and suddenly has a shaky hold on third place in the East. A loss to D.C. United could leave NYCFC heading into its season finale against the Philadelphia Union needing a result to ensure a home playoff game in the knockout round. There is even a worst-case scenario that could see NYCFC fall all the way to sixth place by the end of the regular season, if the Union, Columbus Crew and D.C. United win out.
The Montreal Impact need two wins and with have to hope that D.C. doesn’t win either of its remaining matches to sneak into the playoffs, but given how well D.C. United is playing right now, it’s tough to see Ben Olsen’s side slowing down.
RSL’s kids hoping to deny Zlatan’s Galaxy
Real Salt Lake is the only MLS team that won’t be playing on the final day, meaning its trip to Portland on Sunday is its final chance to ensure a playoff berth. A win would lock up RSL’s postseason berth, but beating the Timbers at Providence Park is no easy task, certainly not for an RSL side that has been terrible on the road this season (3-10-3).
If the Timbers beat RSL, or even earn a draw, that suddenly gives life to the Galaxy, currently four points behind RSL for the final playoff spot. The Galaxy have winnable games remaining against Minnesota United and the Houston Dynamo, and have racked up seven points in their past three matches.
Ibrahimovic is expected to make his first start of the season on artificial turf. The Swedish star has avoided playing on fake grass in all but one instance this year, even skipping the MLS All-Star Game in the process, in order to keep from having to risk re-injuring his surgically-repaired right knee. He has recorded at least one goal or assist in six straight matches, and the Galaxy are going to need him to ensure a win against a Loons side that has been much better at home than on the road.
West powers FC Dallas and Sporting KC collide
The top two teams in the Western Conference square off, and things are so tight atop the West that the loser of the match could find itself tumbling multiple spots in the standings.
FC Dallas has held onto first place since the summer, but a loss to Sporting KC could see Oscar Pareja’s men slip all the way to third, out of the spots with first-round byes. Sporting KC will try to become just the second visiting team to win at Toyota Stadium this year, knowing that a loss could drop SKC as far as fourth place. With a trip to lowly Colorado waiting at the end of the season, FC Dallas surely knows that a win on Sunday would all but ensure the top seed in the West, and Dallas should have an edge against a Sporting KC side that is coming off a mid-week trip to Vancouver (albeit a match SKC won).
Los Angeles FC will be hoping to capitalize on whatever outcome takes place at Toyota Stadium. If Bob Bradley’s squad can beat the Vancouver Whitecaps at home, as expected, then the expansion team would be guaranteed to move into one of the top two spots in the West, and could even jump into first place if FCD and SKC tie.
Making things even more interesting is the fact LAFC travels to Sporting KC for the regular season finale.
Supporters’ Shield race a tight one
Atlanta United has the edge in the Supporters’ Shield race heading into the final two weekends, but it is far from a straightforward path to the second-year team’s first piece of silverware.
Miguel Almiron is sidelined by injury, as is Hector Villalba, leaving the Five Stripes without two of their most dangerous weapons. The Chicago Fire have been atrocious on the road this year and aren’t likely to be able to stop Atlanta’s attack, even short-handed, though Ezequiel Barco and Julian Gressel will need to provide Josef Martinez with some service to ensure Atlanta United maintains its one-point lead on the New York Red Bulls in the Supporters’ Shield race.
The Red Bulls have to assume Atlanta is going to win at home, making the trip to Philadelphia a must-win to keep the club’s hopes of a third Supporters’ Shield in six seasons alive. The Union are standing in the way, and are riding a 7-1-2 run in their past 10 matches. They have also made things tough for the Red Bulls, who have managed to win just one of their past four meetings against the Union. While that may be the case, the Red Bulls have had the look of a championship team in recent weeks, and will be looking to send a message to a Union side they could very well wind up seeing again in the playoffs.
The San Jose Earthquakes and Colorado Rapids have been two of the worst teams in MLS this season, but there could still be historical significance when they square off at Avaya Stadium, what with Chris Wondoloski needing two goals to break Landon Donovan’s record for career MLS goals.
Wondolowski’s hunt for the record has been the lone bright spot in San Jose’s abysmal season — at least until Matias Almeyda’s hiring as head coach for 2019 — and interim coach Steve Ralston has made sure to give Wondolowski his chance to make a real run at the record.
The Earthquakes have lost six straight, but Wondolowski has scored goals in his past two matches to give him 10 on the season and a chance of catching Donovan. He didn’t start against the Red Bulls, but you have to think Ralston will start him against a Rapids side that has had one of the league’s worst defenses this year. The Earthquakes close out the season with a trip to Seattle, which has allowed the fewest goals in the league this year, meaning Sunday will be Wondolowski’s most realistic chance to catch or potentially pass Donovan and become the new MLS goal-scoring king.