We have finally reached the final weekend of the weirdest year in MLS history. And that means we're ready for Decision Day presented by AT&T.
There are 13 games happening in two separate batches — one at 3:30 pm ET on Sunday, and the second batch at 6:30 pm ET on Sunday. We'll have pregame and postgame shows, as well as a between-games breakdown with all your usual friends from Extratime and The Call-Up, as well as some special guests. You can watch on the MLS Twitter feed, Facebook feed, YouTube feed, and right here on MLSsoccer.com.
We, in turn, will be trying to watch a little bit of everything, as all the games are important. But some are more important than others.
My personal priority list:
Who will win the Supporters' Shield?
It's a two-horse race between the Philadelphia Union and Toronto FC, both of whom are on 44 points and 13 wins. So if they both end up with the same result — win or lose or draw — it comes down to goal differential. And that means Philly (+22) would win their first piece of silverware, because Toronto are just +8.
So really, the focus is on Philly. If they do as they've usually done this year, they will win the club's first title of any sort and continue the shockingly linear climb they've had since Jim Curtin took over more than a half-decade ago.
Philadelphia Union vs. New England Revolution (3:30 pm ET; ABC, full TV & streaming info): This will be the fifth meeting in less than four months between these two. The first was a 1-0 win by the Union in the MLS is Back Tournament Round of 16. That was followed by a scoreless draw, and then a pair of 2-1 Philly wins, the most recent of which was three weeks ago. Every time these two teams have met, it has been tight, but the Union have walked away with 10 of a possible 12 points.
The catch is this: Andre Blake has routinely stood on his head in those games. I think you could plausibly argue that New England have, on the balance of play, generally been better than the Union across 360 minutes this year, but Blake has had their number.
Blake, of course, is hurt. It's Joe Bendik's job now, and Bendik was poor last weekend in an otherwise rampant Union performance vs. Columbus (who got their own stand-out performance in net from Eloy Room). They can not afford that kind of performance from him again, especially now that the Revs have Carles Gil back.
An x-factor to be aware of is New England's weakness on set pieces. They have been the best defense in the league from open play, but the very worst on restarts — especially corners.
New York Red Bulls vs. Toronto FC (3:30 pm ET; TV & streaming info): I don't think it's arguable that the Shield would mean more, as a franchise, to the Union. But it would still mean a ton to the Reds, all of whom, remember, have been living in a different country, hundreds of miles from home and unable to see their loved ones for months. Whatever happens — whether they win multiple trophies or none this year — Toronto's players and staff deserve an immense amount of thanks and respect. The same goes for Montreal and Vancouver as well.
The big question for Toronto here is how healthy they will be. It seems like Ayo Akinola is back to full(ish) fitness, and with Michael Bradley back it apparently means that Michael Bradley is going to play 90 minutes every night even if there are some compelling arguments that they have been better with other options in central midfield. Chris Mavinga is fit, but always fragile. Justin Morrow is a question, as is Pablo Piatti. Jozy Altidore is still hurt.
However, even without Altidore, Toronto switched to a 4-4-2 last week and were probably more effective playing out of that formation than they had been in a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-3-3. If Altidore does make it back for the 2020 Audi MLS Cup Playoffs, the combination of him and Akinola up top is tantalizing. And it's not like any of the wing options — Piatti included — have made it certain that this team should be in a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-3-3.
The Red Bulls don't have a ton to play for in this one, except for the fact that basically the entire team's fighting for their jobs on one level or another. A good performance could make it easier for Bradley Carnell to pick both personnel and a formation for the playoffs.
The Final Two Playoff Spots
Only FC Cincinnati have been eliminated in the East, which means it's five teams for two spots. Montreal and Chicago are above the line on 23 points, but Montreal have one win in six and Chicago are winless in five. Atlanta United are just behind them on 22 points; their win last week was their first in a month. Just behind them are Inter Miami and D.C. United on 21 points. Miami have won once in their past five, and have dropped more points (14) from leading positions than any team in the league, while D.C.… D.C.'s been rolling! They're 3-1-1 in their past five since parting ways with head coach Ben Olsen. Though they did manage to turn a 2-0 lead at New England last weekend into a 4-3 loss.
Nobody's been running away with this thing, obviously.
The Impact play at D.C. (3:30 pm ET; TV & streaming info), which is obviously the most direct way to keep an eye on things, though nothing but an Impact win would guarantee anything. A D.C. win would give United a shot, but they'd need lots of help from elsewhere.
The Fire have a tougher road, as they host NYCFC (3:30 pm ET; TV & streaming info). Chicago have been playing well but have a penchant for self-destruction and are one match-winner short in attack. NYCFC on the other hand, were gorgeous and irresistible last week in ripping apart the Red Bulls. If they play a full roster — and they might, since there's an outside chance they could climb up into fourth place if the Crew stumble — Chicago could be in some trouble. But there's also a compelling case for Ronny Deila to give his main guys some rest.
Speaking of Columbus stumbling, if it happens it'd be against Atlanta (3:30 pm ET; TV & streaming info). Columbus have not been playing well with just two wins in their past 10, but they're finally somewhat close to full health, they're at home (where they're 8-1-0 this year) and they actually kind of need a win here. If they draw and NYCFC win, the Cityzens jump them and climb into fourth place in the East. So expect Atlanta —who have just two road wins all year, and surely need a third here — to face a full-force version of the Crew.
Still, if Atlanta win this, they're in unless both Montreal and Chicago win.
And now back to FC Cincinnati, who are the Chekhov's Gun of this little segment. They have lost four straight and won just twice in 17 games since leaving Orlando this summer. They have scored just five times. And they are on the road, at Inter Miami (3:30 pm ET; ESPN+) to finish the season.
Miami haven't been great or even good. They are a disappointment relative to expectations both internally and externally, as well as relative to their talent. But they should absolutely win this game.
If they do, that puts them on 24 points. It wouldn't be enough to get them past Montreal and Chicago if Montreal and Chicago both win, but if both those teams draw, while Miami wins, then Miami would leapfrog both.
For what it's worth, I'm picking Miami and Montreal to advance.
Top of the West
It's a three-team race between Sporting, Portland and Seattle. All will finish on different total games played because of COVID-related cancellations. What an unforgettably weird year we've had, folks.
Portland have the toughest road, as they're at LAFC (6:30 pm ET; FS1, full TV & streaming info), are injury-wracked and are playing on short rest after a midweek home loss to Colorado. And they haven't beaten LAFC — who have something to play for here, as they could climb into fourth and get a home game in the playoffs — in 2020.
Sporting are at RSL (6:30 pm ET; TV & streaming info), which is never an easy place for them to play, but RSL have been miserable for a while now and Freddy Juarez's personnel decisions have robbed them of any rhythm or consistent offensive push. They do not appear to be as dangerous down the stretch here as they have been the past couple of years, and don't really have anything to play for (except jobs) as they've already been eliminated.
Sporting have been rolling, with a 5-1-1 record in their past seven, and are one of the few teams that are largely healthy. The returns of Alan Pulido, Ilie Sanchez and Roger Espinoza have been key, but so has been the steadiness and availability of center back Roberto Puncec. He's not a Best XI candidate or anything, but the big Croat has brought a level of calm to a backline that was gappy throughout all of 2019. Add in Jaylin Lindsey's steady improvement at right back, and they look to be in very good shape.
I am of the opinion that Seattle, who host a San Jose team that are one of the league's hottest and most entertaining (6:30 pm ET; TV & streaming info), are actually the best and most well-rounded of this group, but they have not looked it over the past month. A raft of injuries and international absences, as well as Nico Lodeiro being run into the ground (the 31-year-old has rested for 18 minutes in 19 games dating back to the start of the MLS is Back Tournament) has seen a commensurate and basically team-wide dip in form.
I don't know what version of the Sounders we'll see in this one. I do suspect that with most of the group getting a few weeks of rest ahead of the playoffs, that it doesn't much matter. Once these guys have their legs back they are the favorites to come out of the West, even if I'm picking Sporting to win the regular-season conference crown.