MLS fans, be sure not to blink this weekend.
The league is set for one of the tightest finishes in history, with no fewer than four teams still in contention for the Supporters' Shield and five teams playing for three places in the Eastern Conference. Where does this rank among photo finishes in league history?
Right near the top. For comparison, here are three more of the closest finishes in league history.
The end of the 2009 season is perhaps the best comparison to the wild finish we've been set up for this year.
Though the Supporters' Shield had already been decided and Chicago's midweek victory over Chivas USA had wrapped up the first six playoff spots, a frantic push for the final two postseason berths remained, with six teams still very much in the hunt, separated by three points. And in the end, the least likely team won it all.
Toronto FC, hungry for their first-ever playoff berth were first up, visiting one of the worst New York Red Bulls teams in history. But that didn't matter on the day as New York blew out the Reds, 5-0, to write another frustrating chapter in TFC's history.
D.C. United were the next team to take a shot, and looked to have taken a huge step forward to the playoffs when Julius James gave them a 2-1 lead at Kansas City in the 82nd minute. However, a Claudio López equalizer from the spot in injury time forced them to hold their breath for other results, sitting on a minus-one goal differential.
Given the early results, Colorado, who had a one-point advantage over most of the chasing pack and a three-point lead over Real Salt Lake, their opponents on the night, could've wrapped up the spot with just a draw. However, Jason Kreis' side blew up the Rapids, winning 3-0 to insert themselves into the conversation, joining D.C. and the Rapids in a three-way tie for the seventh and eighth spots.
Shift to Sunday, and New England were about to make that picture a whole lot more convoluted when their game with Columbus remained 0-0 deep into the second half, which would've made it a four-way tie. But Jeff Larentowicz came to the Revs' rescue with a 79th-minute goal to move them into a certain playoff place and RSL, with the longest chance heading into the weekend, joined them. Any Claret-and-Cobalt fan will be happy to tell you what happened after that.
The 2004 season was one of the last times we saw duels for the Supporters' Shield and playoff places play out almost simultaneously, as will happen on Saturday.
Kansas City and Columbus were both in contention for the Shield, with the Crew carrying a two-point lead over the Wizards into the final weekend. Kansas City kicked off 30 minutes prior to Columbus, and edged out a hard-fought game against the LA Galaxy to temporarily take the lead and claim top spot in the West. However, they would ultimately regret not being able to get one more.
The Crew were playing a tightly contested game of their own, with Colorado having equalized from the penalty spot early in the second half. The Crew managed to hold off the attack-minded Rapids, though, and secured the first of three Shields in their history and perhaps the most tightly-decided. With both teams level on points and goal difference, Columbus claimed the title on the third tiebreaker by virtue of having scored just two more goals on the season than Kansas City.
These were also the days when only two teams missed out on the playoffs, and at the bottom of each conference, fourth squared off with fifth to determine that final place in the conference quarterfinals. In the East, needing nothing less than a win against the previous year's MLS Cup finalists, Chicago. The game was decided in a three-minute flurry of goals, with strikes from Steve Ralston and Clint Dempsey sandwiching a Fire goal, and the Revs held on against a desperate Chicago team to book their trip to the postseason.
Over in the West, San Jose traveled to Dallas with the Burn needing a win to deny the defending champs a shot at another crown. With the game tied 2-2 and a half-hour remaining, Dallas threw the kitchen sink at the Quakes, but their poor finishing let them down, with their two goals on the day standing as the only two shots on target out of 15, giving San Jose a a fourth-straight playoff berth.
Heading into the final weekend, the Kansas City Wizards led the Supporters' Shield race by two points over the chasing Chicago Fire and NY/NJ MetroStars.
The Wizards, playing the early game on Saturday, looked on the verge of throwing away their first-ever chance at silverware, falling 2-0 behind to the Tampa Bay Mutiny after 33 minutes. However, they were able to fight back to earn a draw with goals on either side of halftime.
That made for very long odds for the MetroStars, who would need to make up a seven-goal deficit in goal differential, but gave the Fire, who just needed a three-goal win over already-eliminated Columbus, a fighting chance.
Less than a half hour into the Fire's trip to Columbus, it looked like Bob Bradley's men just might pull it off, leading 2-0 through goals from Peter Nowak and Ante Razov. And despite a Columbus goal, Chicago took that slight lead – and the Supporters' Shield hopes – deep into the second half until Brian McBride stuck a dagger into his future team's hopes with an 88th-minute equalizer.
Though the Fire would win it two minutes later, McBride's late goal destroyed any chance at the Shield. Kansas City would add insult to injury a month later when they topped the Fire 1-0 in MLS Cup 2000.