A little bit of housecleaning before we dive into #DecisionDay.


First off, scoring is down a little bit from last season. In 2014 MLS teams scored 2.86 goals per match, while in 2015 we're down a tick to 2.74. The interesting thing is this 2015 split, pointed out by ace researcher Ben Baer:


March-June
Goals per game: 2.47


July-Present
Goals per game: 3.05


The splits from last season are much tighter, hovering around 2.8 for the first half of the year and 2.9 for everything after. Partially that's because the refs were (in my unstudied opinion) much more consistent in how tight they called penalties in 2014, and partially that's because guys like Didier Drogba, Giovani dos Santos and Juan Manuel Martinez arrived in the mid-season window this year.
Mostly, though, it's because chemistry matters. More teams had it from Day 1 in 2014, and this past winter's upheaval made for an uneven start to the year.

Second, MLS has, for the third time in four years, set a bunch of attendance records. This will be the first season in league history to average over 20,000 fans per game (and will actually be the first over 21,000 as well), and - just as or maybe even more important - the median will also most likely top 20,000. A decade ago, those numbers were 15,000 and 12,500.


The biggest change in the league over the past decade isn't DPs or Homegrown players or new coaches. It's how gameday looks and sounds and feels.


As somone who's been a fan for 20 years, and once upon a time sat with maybe 3,000 other people in the Meadowlands as the MetroStars lost another 3-1 laugher... thank you.


Onto the games:




1. Dazed and Confused


I wrote some about the LA Galaxy's grim state of affairs on Thursday, pinpointing a lack of back-pressure from the front-line and an inability to do simple tracking from the midfield.


The team they're facing on Sunday (7 pm ET; ESPN | ESPN3), Sporting KC, have been just as bad. They've had all sorts of organizational issues along the backline, are susceptible to being beaten in the air in ways that SKC teams have consistently been able to avoid, and have bordered on profligate in front of net.


And the real problem is that, piled on top of all of the above, they're not generating the same types of chances that they'd been able to use to cut teams up in spring and summer. Their ability to drive the ball out of midfield on the run has disappeared in the last two months - not coincidentally, right when Roger Espinoza got hurt - and as a result they're not forcing defenses to compress as they had earlier in the year.


They had a glimmer of hope at the end of their 2-0 loss to Colorado on Wednesday:



It's not that Espinoza was making these plays himself, it's that his tireless, unselfish and smart running dragged defenders away from Benny Feilhaber, Graham Zusi et al, making it easier for the true attackers to find those spots. In Espinoza's absence, Sporting have lost a big part of their attacking identity - and unlike in years past, they can't completely make up for it on restarts or by launching balls to the back post.


The good news for Sporting? LA have been exceedingly bad at tracking those runs, and the lack of defensive pressure they generate from their forwards allows for the type of easy, early distribution that can put the midfield and attack in spots to do real harm.


They need to do harm, by the way, because this is pretty close to a "must-win" game.


I'll also be watching... When does Omar Gonzalez step off the line? Portland, by holding the ball in central midfield, forced him to come up and meet them, then burned him for speed. This is something Krisztian Nemeth should take note of.




2. Ramble On


More and more teams have switched to either the 4-2-3-1 or the 4-3-3 over the past few years, to the point where the classic 4-4-2 has become something of an anachronism. One of the few teams to hang onto that tried-and-true "default" formation is D.C. United, and say what you want about them aesthetically, but they've gotten results.


United have now qualified for the CONCACAF Champions League knockout rounds two years in a row, and are once again top two in the East, making it three times in four years they've managed that. On Sunday they can clinch that spot (and the Knockout Round bye that comes with it) by winning at Columbus (5 pm ET; FS1), which is a pretty tall order. Crew SC looked legit last week in Toronto on the defensive side of the ball, which is something they've struggled with all year.


Even in the wake of that performance, though, I can't write off United simply because their strength - wingers who can drive the ball forward and be dangerous in the final third - match up well against a Columbus exploit: Fullbacks that push high, hard, and recklessly.


This is the ugliest goal ever, but notice which gap Chris Pontius hits:

Any time the fullback becomes dislocated from the central defense, a healthy Pontius is a danger to score. And for the first time in three years, Pontius looks like he's healthy.


This is the same strategy that got D.C. very, very close to vanquishing a good RBNY team last year, and it's the same pattern that got them so close to MLS Cup in 2012. MLS has changed, but things have just sort of rambled on for United.


And the fact that they're once again looking at a November schedule speaks to just how effective "simple" can be.


I'll also be watching... No Federico Higuain, no Kei Kamara. I think it'll be Ben Speas as the playmaker and Aaron Schoenfeld up top, but a more mobile combination could be Cedrick Mabwati and Jack McInerney instead.


Gregg Berhalter's got options.




3. Trampled Under Foot


I honestly believe this: The only chance San Jose have at Dallas on Sunday (7 pm ET; ESPN3) is to kill FCD on restarts. They've got behemoth central defenders Clarence Goodson and Victor Bernardez to aim for, they've got rookie midfielder Fatai Alashe who's shown a nose for goal on dead balls, and they've got Jedi Master Chris Wondolowski making defenders forget he exists at the back post.


Most important, though, is earning those restarts in the first place. And that's where Matias Perez Garcia and Quincy Amarikwa come in:

Player
Minutes Played
Fouls Won
Fouls won per 90
<span style="line-height: 20.8px;">Juan&nbsp;</span>Ramírez
1439
71
4.44
<span style="line-height: 20.8px;">Matías&nbsp;</span>Pérez García&nbsp;
1965
82
3.76
<span style="line-height: 20.8px;">Patrick&nbsp;</span>Nyarko
1132
47
3.74
<span style="line-height: 20.8px;">Eric&nbsp;</span>Ayuk Mbu
1253
50
3.59
<span style="line-height: 20.8px;">Mauro&nbsp;</span>Díaz
1907
73
3.45
<span style="line-height: 20.8px;">Quincy&nbsp;</span>Amarikwa
2107
78
3.33

Garcia and Amarikwa draw a ton of fouls. And Amarikwa may be the best in league history at drawing penalties, which is not an insignificant attribute when going against a defense that will likely include two of Zach Loyd, Je-Vaughn Watson and Atiba Harris. Dallas are not delicate flowers.


But make no mistake: Dallas are prohibitive favorites here, and a win gives them a damn good chance at the franchise's first-ever Supporters' Shield. There's loot on the line, and given the way FCD are tuned right now, I'd expect them to give themselves a real chance at snagging it.


I'll also be watching... For the nationalistic Americans among you, Anibal Godoy's suspension makes it a decent bet that Alashe will start in central midfield with Marc Pelosi. Both of these guys are US U-23 mainstays, and both could have a say in how the US fare against Colombia in a couple of months in Olympic qualifying.


It'll be fun to watch how they cope with Mauro Diaz's movement and playmaking brilliance.




4. Celebration Day


Dallas have been the best team in the league recently, but over the course of the season, I think RBNY have been the league's best team. The Expected Goals numbers back that up:

Yeah, it's those overlapping fullbacks. No matter who's out there (and if I was a betting man, I'd wager on Kemar Lawrence at LB and Sal Zizzo at RB), RBNY will press high and hard, and that will leave space in behind for the likes of Patrick Nyarko, David Accam and Gilberto.


This is how teams have gone at New York all year. The Red Bulls have improved at defending against that, but it's still a weakness, not a strength.


I'll also be watching... Is this the finale for Jon Busch? He's the last MLS player who's older than me, so I'm kind of dying for him to hang on for another year. Keep the dream alive, Jon!!!!




One more thing:

Work smarter, not harder.


Happy #DecisionDay, everybody.