Gather round, sports fans. All of the odds and ends from 33 regular season matches are bubbling in a cauldron – vapors wafting and sparks flying. The final chaotic elixir is ready: Decision Day. Somehow, 446 matches and 1,244 goals later, with the Supporters’ Shield decided long ago, so much still comes down to the final 90 minutes for 26 teams. (With 27 teams in the league, Houston Dynamo FC is the only team left out on Decision Day, having completed its 34-game campaign in Montreal Wednesday.)
I’m here to break down all of it. Let’s get to it by starting with your hometown team.
Rapids (and Seattle and Kansas City) Can Still Win the West
Various projection models as late as last week had all gamed out the Rapids’ chances of finishing third in the Western Conference at 90%. They may still. But the math has certainly decreased following Seattle’s 1-1 tie at home against the LA Galaxy and Sporting KC losing its last two road matches, to Minnesota United FC and Austin FC.
Seattle (59 points) is the team in control of their destiny, and they’re the only one of the trio that has to hit the road. They head a couple hours north to downtown Vancouver against the white hot Whitecaps. Sporting KC (58) needs to beat a limping Real Salt Lake and for Seattle to drop points. If that happens, it doesn’t matter the final score in Colorado, SKC will earn the first-round bye in the postseason. For the Rapids (58), they need to beat LAFC and hope the Sounders and SKC to both draw or lose. With that combination of results, the Rapids will wear the crown.
The Rest of the West
Following their victory over Real Salt Lake (45), the Portland Timbers (52) sit alone in fourth place and there they shall remain. They are the only team that cannot move. And the final three playoff positions below them are very much up for grabs.
Minnesota United (48) cling to fifth by a fingernail and they travel to seventh-place LA Galaxy (47). The sixth-place Whitecaps (48) host the aforementioned Sounders. Below the playoff line, RSL are off to Kansas City, and LAFC (45) are here.
Nobody’s safe, nobody’s earned anything. There are seemingly unlimited permutations, and I am feeling a marrow-deep envy for people who will be congealing into their couches, only their eyes darting back and forth between TV sets, laptops and tablets with streams of all of the Decision Day anarchy.
With the Rapids in mind, I’ll have two eyes fixed firmly on the pitch calling the action on Altitude Sports Radio and my phone on do not disturb mode to prevent a constant vibrating of texts, tweets and goal notifications. Whether or not the Rapids finish first, second or third is just as intriguing as who they might end up playing in the first (or second) round.
The New England Revolution (73) have been firmly planted atop the East for so long, they’ve probably morphed from raptor on its perch to a solidified gargoyle that’s now a permanent feature of the architecture. Despite this, the rest of the Eastern Conference is playing musical chairs with spots 2-10. The Philadelphia Union (53), Nashville SC (53) and NYCFC (50) are locked in already.
And just for fun, NYC get to host Philly. Due to the first tiebreaker being total wins, NYC would jump the Union with a victory. Should Nashville lose at home to the Red Bulls (47), NYC would also surpass the Boys in Gold with a win over Philadelphia. But that would be quite the trick by RBNY; Nashville is unbeaten at Nissan Stadium, boasting an impressive 8-0-8 record.
Atlanta United (48) and Orlando City SC (48) sit in fifth and sixth respectively, both rooting for the Union to give them a chance to pass NYC and host a playoff game. The Five Stripes go to TQL Stadium to face FC Cincinnati (20), and Orlando heads north of the border to Quebec against what will be a desperate Montréal (46), who are currently the first team out in eighth.
All of those teams are in the drivers seat. It’s as simple as win and you’ve clinched. Except for you, FC Cincinnati, unfortunately. It’s the final two teams still eligible for the postseason where fans are frantic. D.C. United (44) and the reigning MLS Cup champions, the Columbus Crew (44), hold ninth and 10th but only seven squads qualify for the tournament. The math is easy to understand; the scary part is when you realize how long the odds are.
D.C. have the easier path. A road victory over Toronto FC (34), a Nashville SC victory over the Red Bulls and Montréal dropping points equals against Orlando would put first-year manager Hernán Losada in the postseason. It would be a great debut year for a coach with no prior MLS experience.
The Crew however, are up against it. Like D.C., they need to win the match in front of them, at home against the Fire (28). They need D.C. and Montréal to drop points. It all feels pretty straightforward so far. A lot needs to go their way, but it all feels possible. The air gets sucked out of the room when you learn the Crew need Nashville to pummel the Red Bulls to bring the goal differential between the Crew – currently apart by seven goals – back to zero. Then the next tiebreaker, goals scored, would be triggered, and the Crew have a +6 advantage there. Perhaps the Crew win, 4-0, and Nashville wins, 3-0, and Caleb Porter’s side returns to the postseason. We’ll see.
Golden Boot Race
Carlos Vela’s record-breaking 34-goal campaign in 2019 feels like a lifetime ago. Whoever takes home the hardware this season won’t sniff the record in the first full season since that MVP year. It should put into perspective what the Mexican forward did. But the past is the past, and we move forward. The tiebreaker is assists so I’ll include those.
This season, in contention is current leader Taty Castellanos of NYCFC with 18 (8 assists), D.C.’s Ola Kamara with 17 (5), Seattle’s Raúl Ruidíaz also with 17 (1), Sporting KC’s Dániel Sallói has 16 (8), same as the Revolution’s Adam Buksa (4).
Castellanos is the clubhouse leader and given his assist tally, has to be your favorite too. Forced to pick, I’d assume Castellanos holds on, but do not for one second count out the Peruvian, Ruidíaz. He shows up in the biggest games and puts on a show. Sunday is the biggest game of Seattle’s year, and he’s returning to full fitness after being plagued by a hamstring injury. Watch out.