We have arrived. A regular season that kicked off almost eight months ago comes to an end this Sunday, better known around MLS as Decision Day. If you are unfamiliar with the concept, all teams in the league will play on Sunday. Every Eastern Conference game will kick off at 1:30 p.m. and every Western Conference game will start at 4:00 p.m.
There is intrigue in both conferences as playoff spots are still up for grabs, with several games this Sunday being “win and you’re in” contests between teams fighting for their post-season lives. So this week, instead of the usual list and telling you who to cheer for, we’re going to break down the scenarios by each conference and only focus on games that could have impact on the playoffs.
EASTERN CONFERENCE – All games @ 1:30 p.m.
The Battle for the Final Two Spots
Orlando City vs Columbus Crew – FS1
D.C. United vs FC Cincinnati – ESPN+
The Orlando/Columbus match is essentially a “win and you’re in” game. If either team wins, that club will clinch a playoff spot. However, both teams could draw and still make the playoffs. How is that possible? FC Cincinnati could do a very Cincinnati sports thing and lose at D.C. United, meaning a draw in the other match moves Cincinnati from 6th place to 8th place, and thus out of the picture.
The Clinching Scenarios:
Orlando City: Win OR Tie + a Cincinnati loss
Columbus: Win or Tie vs Orlando
FC Cincinnati: Win or Tie vs D.C. OR Orlando vs Columbus does not end in a draw
The Fight for the Top Spot
Philadelphia Union vs Toronto FC – ESPN+
Inter Miami vs Club de Foot Montreal – ESPN+
Philadelphia, despite leading the East for most of the season, can finish in 2nd if things go wrong this weekend. The Union gagged away a chance at the Supporters’ Shield last week and now have to regroup in order to seal home field advantage and a bye week. Montreal and Miami both have goals to play for (more on Miami in a moment), so both squads should put out a first choice lineup.
The Clinching Scenarios:
Philadelphia is #1 seed with a win OR a Montreal loss or tie
Montreal is #1 seed with a win + a Philadelphia loss
Everything In Between
Atlanta United vs NYCFC – ESPN+
New York Red Bulls vs FC Charlotte – ESPN+
NYCFC will be playing a home match in the first round. The questions are against whom and where because both Yankee Stadium and Citi Field are unavailable.
The Red Bulls and Miami are battling for the final home playoff spot. New York clinches it with a win against Charlotte, while Miami needs both a NYRB loss and a win against Montreal. There’s a very good possibility that the Red Bulls and Miami will face-off in the first round, so home field means everything here.
The BIG caveat here: Miami could also finish as low as 7th. If FC Cincinnati and Columbus both win AND Miami loses, the Herons fall all the way to the final playoff spot.
WESTERN CONFERENCE – All Games @ 4:00 p.m.
The Battle For the Final Two Spots
Real Salt Lake vs Portland Timbers – ESPN2
Minnesota United FC vs Vancouver Whitecaps – ESPN+
Welcome to the afternoon Thunderdome. Both matches are “win and you’re in”.
For Real Salt Lake and Vancouver, the math is simple: must win.
For Minnesota and Portland, the math is just as simple: must not lose.
If you aren’t going to Q2 Stadium on Sunday, I would highly suggest having multiple screens for viewing these matches. Not only will they decide the final participants in the Western Conference playoffs, but they will have massive implications for final seeding.
If you want to know how all of this affects Austin FC and who the Verde would face in Round 1, go check out Travel McTravelface’s breakdown here.
Everything in Between
LAFC vs Nashville SC – ESPN+
Houston Dynamo vs L.A. Galaxy – ESPN+
FC Dallas vs Sporting Kansas City – ESPN+
1st and 2nd place are locked up and decided in the West. Everything else is wide open.
FC Dallas can secure 3rd place with a win or draw against a dangerous Sporting KC club. But if Sporting were to pull the upset and both Galaxy and Nashville win on Sunday, Dallas would fall all the way to 5th place via tiebreakers, meaning they would be on the road in Round 1.
Nashville and the Galaxy can finish anywhere between 3rd and 7th.
Portland can finish as high as 4th, where they would host a first-round match, or could end up missing the playoffs completely. The same scenario exists for Minnesota.
Basically, for two hours on Sunday afternoon, the Wild Wild West will truly live up to its nickname.
Welcome to the Thunderdome indeed.