- All 24 teams will be in action simultaneously during MLS's regular-season finales on Sunday, when two playoff spots and all of the first-round seeding will be up for grabs. Here's how the slate stacks up, along with the scenarios for what's left to be decided.
MLS has reached its set of season finales, with another edition of Decision Day on the way. All 24 teams will play simultaneously on Sunday, with two playoff spots in the Western Conference still remaining unclaimed and all the seeding that will set the first round matchups still to be determined. Aside from the top seeds in each conference–LAFC and NYCFC–the rest of the playoffs are a snow globe, and Decision Day will shake it all up before setting the road to MLS Cup.
This past Sunday's set of simultaneous matches in the East and simultaneous matches in the West made for some prime theater and provided the final pieces of the puzzle for the regular season. All seven teams in the Eastern Conference playoff picture are set, thanks to the New England Revolution's win over NYCFC, which eliminated the last also-rans behind them. NYCFC claimed the top seed in the conference despite the defeat, with the Philadelphia Union unable to push things for that distinction to the final day after a loss in Columbus.
Out West, Portland, San Jose, Dallas and Colorado are vying for two berths, after Real Salt Lake clinched one of the last unclaimed spots–a development that means all-time great goalkeeper Nick Rimando will get the chance to exit on the playoff stage after all.
Here are the 12 matches set for Sunday at 4 p.m. ET ranked by their compelling nature and importance, starting with the bottom:
12. Orlando City vs. Chicago Fire
Otherwise known as the "disappointment derby." Neither side will reach the playoffs, and all that's left to play for is pride. There's an argument to be made that the loser stands to benefit, with a better SuperDraft and allocation order fate awaiting a team with a worse record. Chicago enters the finale two points better than Orlando, meaning it would take a Lions win to alter the current calculus netween the two. Regardless, neither envisioned its season ending like this, with a generally meaningless game wrapping up another futile season of unmet expectations.
11. Vancouver Whitecaps vs. Real Salt Lake
This match at BC Place features two clubs with volatile front-office situations (anyone who didn't see Craig Waibel's ouster as RSL GM coming didn't read Mike Petke's lawsuit against the club, but to pull the trigger on the eve of a potential playoff clincher was a questionable choice at best), yet only one will be playing on after Sunday. RSL is headed to the playoffs, and it can play its way into a top-four berth and a first-round home game with a win and some help. Vancouver, for all of its woes as the last-place team in the West, isn't going quietly, evidenced by its wild 4-3 win over the LA Galaxy on Sunday, and will hope to exit the season with one more upset. Regardless, RSL can't finish lower than fifth in the conference, and it can't rise higher than third.
10. Toronto FC vs. Columbus Crew
Trillium Cup nostalgia aside, there's not much on the line here. Columbus is out of contention, and Toronto FC has faint hopes of hosting a first-round game, needing to leap both D.C. United and the New York Red Bulls in order for there to be a first-round match at BMO Field. The Reds certainly need to rebuild some momentum after losing in the Canadian Championship final to Montreal and needing a late goal from Omar Gonzalez to play spoiler in the final Fire match in Bridgeview before they return to Soldier Field in 2020. TFC, with its talent on paper and title pedigree, remains a true wild card in the playoffs, especially in a one-off situation. Having home-field advantage for a game would be significant in aiding its chances.
9. Montreal Impact vs. New York Red Bulls
The Red Bulls could have taken things into their own hands and been in position to host a playoff game if they would have held serve at home and beaten D.C. United on Sunday. Now, after a 0-0 draw, they'll need a result against Montreal, which just gave Atlanta a game and is still riding the high of its Canadian Championship, just to have a chance. There's pressure building on manager Chris Armas to deliver for the Red Bulls, and the tension and urgency always seems to mount for the club around this time. None of the potential first-round opponents will scare the Red Bulls, but being able to face them at home would surely provide the more palatable route given the club's home/road splits this season.
8. D.C. United vs. FC Cincinnati
How futile will FC Cincinnati's all-time MLS single-season goals-conceded mark wind up being? Tune in to find out how low the bar can go! Right now it's at 75, and if D.C. United adds to it in a winning effort, then it is assured a home game in the first round. Anything less would open the door for the Red Bulls or Toronto to creep into the top four and send the final days of the Wayne Rooney show on the road. That should matter to D.C. fans, because with Rooney suspended due to card accumulation for the regular season finale, a failure to win here could mean he's already played his last game in the nation's capital.
7. Houston Dynamo vs. LA Galaxy
This is a rematch of last season's regular-season finale, in which Houston stunned LA, coming from 2-0 down to win 3-2 and eliminate Zlatan Ibrahimovic & Co. from postseason contention. The Galaxy took care of business ahead of time to seal their return to the playoffs, but they're playing for seeding. If they wind up with the No. 2 seed–which would occur with a win and a Minnesota-Seattle draw–it's conceivable that they never have to leave the Los Angeles area en route to winning MLS Cup. There's also the outside chance that Ibra pips Carlos Vela to the single-season goal record and MLS Golden Boot. Vela has 31 goals, which ties the mark, while Zlatan has 29. Should Vela go scoreless and Zlatan net a hat trick, the math would work out in the Swedish star's favor.
On the Houston side, this match will mark the end of DaMarcus Beasley's sensational and storied playing career.
6. Philadelphia Union vs. NYCFC
Playoff seeding is on the line for the Union, though they know they'll be hosting a first-round game no matter what. Philly and Atlanta will take the 2-3 seeds, it's just a matter of in what order. More pressing for the Union is that the match provides a chance to fire a real warning shot to NYCFC, which has wrapped up the top seed in the conference and has the luxury of approaching this match however it would like. Should the two sides meet again later in the playoffs, though, an impression left behind by Sunday's match could certainly loom as a contributing factor.
5. Atlanta United vs. New England Revolution
This one is a potential 2-7 playoff first-round preview in the East, so it'll be interesting to see how aggressively or how close to the vest these teams approach their showdown. They're both guaranteed playoff berths, while Atlanta knows it will be hosting a first-round game and the Revs know they'll be headed on the road. Given the alternatives, it would behoove Atlanta to win and set up a first-round rematch while also locking up the second seed. Any slip-ups by the top seeds would shoot Atlanta to the top of the line for hosting MLS Cup, should it return to the final. After winning Cup at Mercedes-Benz Stadium last season and lifting the U.S. Open Cup there already this season (in addition to the Campeones Cup), Atlanta has all the incentive it needs to at least put itself in position to make another final at home a possibility.
4. FC Dallas vs. Sporting Kansas City
Sporting KC is out of postseason contention, which is a weird reality to accept after it being a given for the last eight years, but it can at least play spoiler for its midwest foe and drag FCD down, too. On the flip side, FCD knows it's in with a win, but that's easier said than done. FCD didn't win once in four September matches–though it did win the meeting between the two in Kansas in July. Making matters better for FCD is the fact that both Roger Espinoza and Ilie Sanchez will be suspended for the finale after picking up red cards Sunday vs. Portland.
3. Seattle Sounders vs. Minnesota United
These teams have been indirectly battling for playoff seeding for weeks, so it's only appropriate that they settle things once and for all by going head-to-head. A rematch in the playoffs could follow very soon after what will be Osvaldo Alonso's return to Seattle.
As it stands, Minnesota has the slightest of edges in the tiebreaker for the No. 2 seed out West, with the teams tied on points (53) and wins (15) but the Loons leading on goals scored (52-51). There is a scenario where the loser falls all the way out of the top four and is forced to go on the road for the first round, so neither will want to leave anything to chance.
2. LAFC vs. Colorado Rapids
LAFC can smash the MLS record books, with the club able to break the record for most points in a single season with a win, while Vela can set the record for most goals in a single season after pulling even with Josef Martinez's 2018 mark on Sunday.
The match also likely doubles as Tim Howard's farewell, with the former U.S. No. 1 hanging up the gloves and cleats and calling it a career at the end of the season. Colorado does remain alive in the hunt for a playoff berth, no matter how unlikely it may seem given how poor the club has been at times and considering that it's a team three games under .500 and one that has fielded three managers this season. Nevertheless, a win over LAFC, plus a Sporting KC win over FC Dallas and a San Jose loss or tie vs. Portland, and the Rapids are going dancing.
1. Portland Timbers vs. San Jose Earthquakes
The only true high-stakes match of the slate that features a do-or-die element for both teams. There's one certainty for Portland and San Jose: Win and you're in. Any other result leaves things out of their own hands. San Jose, losers of five straight amid a brutal stretch to close the regular season, can get in with a draw, but only if FC Dallas loses to SKC and Colorado doesn't beat LAFC. Portland, which will be without suspended star striker Brian Fernandez, can still back in with a loss, but it would require Dallas not winning to do so.
Their other meeting this season came in April, with San Jose winning 3-0 at home to earn its first points under manager Matias Almeyda after an 0-4-0 start. The Earthquakes have come quite a ways since then, but they've left the door open for another offseason of disappointment.
Given everything that's happened surrounding Providence Park this season–the gorgeous renovations that forced Portland into having its first 12 matches away from home; the fan-league battle over the Iron Front and freedom of expression inside MLS stadiums; the loud whispers of Diego Valeri's potential departure–it's only appropriate that the spotlight winds up there for this decisive final day before the playoffs.