The back-end of the MLS season is always an exciting time, and this year is no exception as both conferences feature multiple teams in a dead heat for Audi 2021 MLS Cup Playoff positioning during this final push.
Here is Week 34's edition of 27 Takeaways, one observation on every MLS team ahead of Decision Day on Sunday.
There’s no time for Atlanta to dwell on the two points dropped, as disappointing as that was. They need to focus on getting big road performances from Josef Martinez and Ezequiel Barco at the New York Red Bulls on Wednesday and at FC Cincinnati on Decision Day. Just one win from those two games and a playoff place will be theirs.
There’s double motivation for Austin to perform well during their final regular-season home game against Sporting KC on Wednesday. Josh Wolff’s team can have a big say on who eventually gets the Western Conference’s No. 1 seed while signing off their home campaign in style in front of their great fanbase.
The numbers speak for themselves: 11 straight losses, one win in 24 and 17 goals conceded in just the last four games. FC Cincinnati’s roster, during all my time being associated with MLS, may need more of a major overhaul than any team I've seen.
Lucas Zelarayan is playing some of the best football he’s played since getting to Columbus, which is saying a lot because he’s been very good from day one. They still have a chance – albeit a slim one – to defend their MLS Cup crown in the postseason. But they’ll need Zelarayan to turn it on one more time, and they’ll also need major help from elsewhere in the Eastern Conference to keep the dream alive.
FC Dallas lifting Copa Tejas surely put some smiles on faces around Toyota Stadium, but the longstanding sting of being eliminated from the playoffs will take a while to heal. Their next head coach will determine which direction this club goes in the next few years. They have to get it right.
Last weekend’s defeat to Columbus ensured that D.C. United endured a really poor October. Winning once in six games has severely diminished their postseason hopes, when even a few more points would have left them as a virtual lock for playoff soccer. They now need to win in Toronto on Decision Day and hope results elsewhere fall their way. If Hernan Losada’s group fails to extend their season, they’d only have themselves (and injuries) to blame.
Being blanked for the second straight home game while outshooting their opponents is a symptom of Houston's larger issue of not being clinical enough all year. With some of the attacking players at their disposal, they’d have expected to score more than the 36 goals they’ve managed in 2021 – second lowest in the West. New general manager Pat Onstad arrives with plenty of work to do.
LAFC’s win against Seattle seemed like a flashback to the good old days of two years ago – counter-pressing, incisive attacking and lots of goals. With Carlos Vela gearing up to full fitness, fans ought to be excited about his potential link-up with Cristian Arango. There's no margin for error, though, in their final two games if they're to avoid missing out on the playoffs for the first time.
The Galaxy hoped for three points but settled for one despite producing a really good first half in Seattle. Chicharito’s contribution was again excellent – aside from the goal, his touch, link-up play and movement were top drawer. Their playoff hopes are now likely to come down to their blockbuster Decision Day clash at home against Minnesota (6 pm ET | FS1).
With eight defeats in 10 games, Miami are limping into an extremely pivotal offseason. Their manager has already said they need to get younger, but it’s going to take more than that. They’ve got it wrong a few too many times in the transfer market, so there’s little margin for error in the player recruitment department.
Minnesota are getting exactly what they need at this stage of the season: big performances from their big players. From Emanuel Reynoso to Osvaldo Alonso, they were really good in Sunday’s 2-1 win over Sporting KC, their most impressive result of the year. All eyes now turn to that Decision Day match against the LA Galaxy.
The bad news is CF Montréal have gone four games without a win. The good news is that their final two regular-season games are at home, in front of the Stade Saputo faithful. Both games are absolute must-wins, and should they win both and make the playoffs, Wilfried Nancy will likely garner some Coach of the Year votes.
Nashville escaped Orlando with a point, and still have a chance to finish second in the Eastern Conference. They’ll need help from the Philadelphia Union and to return to what they’ve traditionally done well: keep a clean sheet. It’s been four games with no shutout, which is very unusual for Gary Smith’s group.
New England have officially secured the most regular-season points (73) in MLS history. Can they make it 76 when hosting Inter Miami on Decision Day? That said, they’d trade every record and individual accolade to lift the big one on December 11.
Three wins on the trot, and with the goals flowing NYCFC are getting hot at just the right time. It’s always a good weekend when you can get three goals from four shots on target, and it’s an even better weekend when one of your players (Taty Castellanos) takes the lead in the Golden Boot presented by Audi race.
Andres Perea's late disallowed goal will overshadow everything else from Sunday’s game against Nashville, but special attention should be paid to Daryl Dike's form. The Orlando City striker has scored three goals in three games at the business end of the campaign, keeping his team in pursuit of a playoff spot.
Inconsistency continues to plague RSL, as their last four wins have been immediately followed by a defeat. Their 53 goals scored are second in the West to Sporting KC, but having only a +2 goal differential shows you where the issues still lie. It could ultimately bounce them from the West’s playoff field.
Seattle's recent form hasn’t been good but the point against the Galaxy still felt like a step in the right direction for a few reasons. A poor first half gave way to an energized second half and a deserved equalizer. Most importantly, Raul Ruidiaz, Nico Lodeiro and Jordan Morris all got major minutes under their belts as well.
SKC had a huge chance to move closer to securing the West’s No. 1 seed but failed to play up to their level in the defeat to Minnesota. Still, with the players they have, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them win both remaining games and render this setback meaningless.
Toronto have pulled off three straight draws against teams fighting for seeding or a playoff spot. They’re playing the role of spoilers quite well and they’ll get one more chance to do it when D.C. United come to town on Decision Day.
Vancouver’s turnaround has been nothing short of remarkable but they must see it through or it would have all been for nothing. Seeing it through will mean getting results against LAFC and Seattle, two teams with a lot to play for as well. But in Brian White and Ryan Gauld, they have match-winners who can get them those results.