National Writer: Charles Boehm

Final playoff spots, seeding, Golden Boot: What’s at stake on Decision Day?

1006 decision day

Wednesday night’s wild duo of rescheduled matches set the table and served up an appetizer: Now the main course arrives on Sunday afternoon.

MLS Decision Day 2022 is here, with the final standings and Audi MLS Cup Playoff seedings to be settled on the season’s last day, as all 28 teams play in seven simultaneous Eastern Conference games at 2:30 pm ET and seven out West at 5 pm ET (See the entire schedule here).

We already know that LAFC are Supporters’ Shield champions and thus owners of home-field advantage throughout the postseason. We also know that Philadelphia, CF Montréal, NYCFC, New York Red Bulls, Miami, Austin, Dallas, LA Galaxy and Nashville have clinched playoff spots.

Meanwhile Charlotte, New England, Atlanta, Chicago, Toronto, D.C., Colorado, Seattle, Kansas City, Houston and San Jose are officially eliminated. But there’s plenty still up in the air, and 90-plus minutes for the teams in between to rise or fall.

Here’s a rundown.

Columbus Crew at Orlando City: In or out?

Somehow the familiar term ‘six-pointer’ doesn’t do this one justice. The tension of the postseason arrives early at Exploria Stadium as, fittingly, the duo who dropped points on Wednesday face off from opposite sides of the East’s playoff line, needing a positive result to qualify without help from elsewhere. (It’s three teams after two spots in the East; we’ll get to D.C.-Cincy in a sec.)

For Caleb Porter and Oscar Pareja, it’s win and you’re in, lose and you’re out. Should they draw, things get trickier.

The Crew sit a solitary point ahead of the Lions in the standings but thanks to their chronic habit of leaking late goals, they’re short on wins, MLS’s first tiebreaker (Columbus have 10 Ws, Orlando have 13 and Cincinnati have 11). Here’s a handy visualization from longtime Crew watcher Orri Benatar:

Both teams will be on short rest; OCSC have the sizable advantage of hosting this one and, almost immediately after losing to Inter Miami, began calling for their fans to pack Exploria to give them a boost. This one gets the national-television spotlight on FS1/FOX Deportes.

FC Cincinnati at D.C. United: Don’t trip

Cincy are tied on points with their Hell is Real rivals from Columbus, but stand a nose ahead on the wins tiebreaker, and travel to Audi Field to play Wooden Spoon winners D.C. needing only to avoid a loss in order to clinch their first-ever trip to the MLS postseason.

Beating or drawing the league’s last-place team sounds easy, right? But FCC face-planted badly their last time out, falling 3-2 at home to Chicago Fire FC last weekend, looking defensively vulnerable throughout. The good news for Cincy is that Wayne Rooney’s United attack has been toothless for months, and were shut out in eight of their last 11 matches.

FCC could still back in with a loss, but if that happens and Orlando-Crew ends in a draw, they’re out and the Floridians are in. It’s a watershed test for Pat Noonan’s year-one turnaround in southern Ohio.

Last Chance Saloon in Sandy and St. Paul

In the West, focus turns to two games in particular: Timbers at Real Salt Lake and Vancouver Whitecaps at Minnesota United. These are as about close to zero-sum situations as you can get.

RSL and the Loons know a home win gets them into the playoffs, period – but they’re both limping into this one, nursing five- and six-game winless skids, respectively.

Conversely, Vancouver have the fewest points of the quartet of clubs vying for the final two postseason slots, but are riding a three-game winning streak. Portland’s battle-tested veterans should understand the stakes as well as anyone, and will carry the sting of Sunday’s costly comeback loss to LAFC on their home turf.

PTFC and MNUFC have a slight advantage in that draws could be enough for them, though they’ll surely be uncomfortable in that outcome, having to depend on results elsewhere to be sure of qualification.

Can Montreal catch Philly?

The Philadelphia Union have been the class of the East for months and even made a push for the Shield. Yet a draw and a loss in their last two games have weakened their hold on first place.

If they lose or draw at home to Toronto FC on Sunday, that opens the door for CF Montréal – who’ve lost just once since mid-July – to steal the top spot from them with a win at Miami. The Quebec club would own the wins tiebreaker if they finish tied on 65 points, so the Union really need to handle their business vs. second-from-bottom TFC.

But Montréal will visit an IMCF side with plenty to play for still, because...

Who hosts in Round One?

Once you’ve qualified for the postseason, there’s another line to aim for: The one between fourth and fifth place. Finish above that and you get to host a home playoff game.

The two New York clubs currently have the inside track on third and fourth place in the East and play already-eliminated clubs on Sunday: NYCFC visit Atlanta United and RBNY host Charlotte.

The Red Bulls can still pass their cross-Gotham rivals should the Pigeons lose to the Five Stripes, however, and should RBNY fail to beat CLTFC, it opens up space for Miami to pip them to fourth if the Herons can knock off Montreal at PRV PNK Stadium.

In the Western Conference, LAFC and Austin can’t be caught. But third and fourth remain up for grabs. FC Dallas and the LA Galaxy are in pole position and will play eliminated sides on Sunday. Nashville SC, the Portland Timbers and Minnesota United are still in the mix, but NSC must visit Shield winners LAFC and those last two still haven’t even qualified

Hany vs. Seba

The MLS Golden Boot presented by Audi race race will also be decided this weekend, and in all likelihood it’s down to two contenders: Nashville SC star Hany Mukhtar, who currently tops the scoring charts with 23 goals, and Sebastian Driussi of Austin FC, the early-season leader who now stands on 21 goals.

Momentum is a big factor here. While Mukhtar has been on a heater down the stretch, banging in 10 goals in his last eight matches, Driussi’s cooled off after his roaring start to the campaign: The Argentine has netted just once since the start of September, hampered by a knee injury.

The schedule has given Driussi a decent shot to make up the gap on Sunday, as ATX host underachieving Colorado at Q2 Stadium, while Mukhtar and NSC must travel to Los Angeles to play Supporters’ Shield winners LAFC. Then again, the stakes may be a bit higher in SoCal, as Nashville are still pursuing a top-four finish that would grant them a home playoff game, while Austin and LAFC are set at 1-2 in the West no matter what transpires this weekend.

There’s also no missing the elephant in the room here: The Boot is a de facto referendum on the Landon Donovan MLS MVP award, with these two also the leading candidates for that honor. Mukhtar may have an edge here, too, considering that he’s also notched 11 assists compared to Driussi’s seven.