Top Things to Watch in MLS this Week

The Pitch - Week 34

This Sunday: All Eyes on MLS Decision Day 2022

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It all comes down to this - it’s make it or break it on the final day of the regular season this Sunday – Decision Day 2022. Five spots remain for the Audi 2022 MLS Cup Playoffs, including three in the Eastern Conference and two in the West. 

From win-and-you’re in matchups, featuring clubs that control their own destinies, to the already qualified teams fighting for home-field postseason advantage, urgency and intensity will be at an all-time high. Clutch performers are in the driver's seat, and all eyes will be on the leading scorer race to determine who will win the MLS Golden Boot presented by Audi. 

Every team will be in action. The seven Eastern Conference matches kick off simultaneously at 2:30 p.m. ET, followed by the seven Western Conference games at 5 p.m. ET. 

When the dust settles after the final match, the complete Audi 2022 MLS Cup Playoffs picture will be revealed.

Midweek Matchups to Set Stage for Down-to-the-wire Decision Day

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A spot in the Audi 2022 MLS Cup Playoffs remains within reach for the final few teams in each conference that are hovering around the playoff line. There’s everything to play for with some very real, own-your-own fate scenarios that are coming into the forefront for the midweek slate of matches and MLS Decision Day 2022.

In the Eastern Conference, it’s FC Cincinnati (46 points), Orlando City SC (45), and Inter Miami CF (45) looking to hold off Columbus Crew (45 points) and Charlotte FC (41), who are on the outside looking in.

The midweek test of the two Florida teams will take center stage on Wednesday, when Miami hosts Orlando City at DRV PNK Stadium (8 p.m. ET, MLS LIVE on ESPN+) following a recommenced match between Charlotte FC and Columbus Crew. With only 75 minutes remaining from the original Charlotte-Columbus match (stopped at the 15:58 mark on July 30), Charlotte is riding a historic expansion season that includes the third-most wins by an expansion club behind only LAFC in 2018 and Atlanta United in 2017.

An Inter Miami victory on Wednesday would clinch a playoff berth for the club, while Orlando City SC can punch their ticket with a win over Inter Miami combined with a Columbus Crew loss.

In the Western Conference, a tight race between four clubs has the Portland Timbers (46 points) and Minnesota United FC (45 points) sitting pretty above the playoff line, while Real Salt Lake (44 points) and Vancouver Whitecaps FC (43 points) are right on their heels. For each of these clubs, it will be win and you’re in on Decision Day, with head-to-head matchups between Minnesota and Vancouver (5 p.m. ET, MLS LIVE on ESPN+) and Real Salt Lake against Portland (5 p.m. ET, ESPN2 / ESPN3 / ESPN App) to bring the regular season a close.

With a berth in the Audi 2022 Cup Playoffs in sight for each of these clubs, the final matches of the 2022 regular season will carry more intensity than ever.

Clubs Vie for Postseason Home Field Advantage on Decision Day

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Home sides continue to fare historically well in the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs, with home-field advantage in the postseason proving especially advantageous since the introduction of the straight bracket single-elimination format in 2019.

Last year alone, five of the six home teams advanced from Round One into the Conference Semifinals, and home teams throughout the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs have won 63.4 percent of postseason games since 2019.

With one final week on the horizon, in the Eastern Conference, the New York Red Bulls (50 points), Orlando City (45), Inter Miami (45), and Columbus Crew (45) each have a chance to secure the fourth seed and host their first-round playoff match. The Red Bulls currently occupy the fourth seed and will need a Decision Day win on Sunday (2:30 p.m., MLS LIVE on ESPN+) over Charlotte FC to guarantee home-field advantage in Round One. Orlando will face Miami on Wednesday (8 p.m., MLS LIVE on ESPN+) and the Crew on Sunday (2:30 p.m. ET, FS1 / FOX Deportes) this week with wins needed in both games to remain in the race for fourth.

Meanwhile, in the Western Conference, FC Dallas (50) need a point from Decision Day to host their Round One playoff match while the fourth-placed LA Galaxy (47) need a win in Houston on Sunday (5 p.m. ET, MLS LIVE on ESPN+) to keep their home playoff dreams alive. Hot on their heels for home field advantage are Nashville SC (47), the Portland Timbers (46), and Minnesota United (45), with the Timbers and Loons still fighting for their playoff lives on Decision Day. Anything less than a win for the Galaxy with wins across the board for those below them in the standings could see them drop from fourth to seventh within a tight table in the West.

When the dust settles on Decision Day this Sunday, who will earn home field advantage for the Audi 2022 MLS Cup Playoffs?

Nancy and CF Montréal Set Sights on No. 1 Seed

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On MLS Decision Day 2022, CF Montréal aim to cap off their record-breaking season by clinching the top seed in the Eastern Conference and securing home-field advantage throughout the Eastern Conference slate of the Audi 2022 MLS Cup Playoffs. To finish atop the conference, the Canadian side will need to win on the road against Inter Miami CF and hope Toronto FC defeat the Philadelphia Union.

CF Montréal’s success is largely attributed to head coach Wilfried Nancy, who is among the frontrunners for the Sigi Schmid MLS Coach of the Year. Under Nancy’s leadership, this Sunday, Montréal could become the most successful team in MLS history on the road by producing the most points (35) and wins (11) in a single season (excluding shootouts). Not only could Montréal set season-long marks, but they also enter the final game of the regular season on a six-game road winning streak – one win away from setting the MLS record (excluding shootouts).

With Inter Miami battling for one of the final playoff spots in the Eastern Conference and forward Gonzalo Higuaín in terrific form approaching the final games of his career, Sunday’s contest will feature incredible emotion and action at DRV PNK Stadium.

Can Montréal pull off their final road heist and first-place finish in the conference?

Mukhtar & Driussi Aim to Score MLS Golden Boot presented by Audi

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The battle for the MLS Golden Boot presented by Audi appears to be a two-horse race between Nashville SC midfielder Hany Mukhtar (23 goals, 11 assists) and Austin FC forward Sebastián Driussi (21 goals, seven assists) heading into Decision Day. Driussi will need to score a hat trick in the season finale against the Colorado Rapids (5 p.m. ET, MLS LIVE on ESPN+) if he wants to overtake Mukhtar for the award. Fortunately for the Argentine, he will get to face a Rapids team that he has already scored against earlier this season.

Historically, Mukhtar’s two-goal lead heading into the final day of the regular season has held up, especially with a sizable lead in the first tiebreaker – assists. However there have been incredible comebacks in this award’s history, including Camilo Sanvezzo scoring a hat trick on the final day of the regular season in 2013 to vanquish Marco Di Vaio’s one-goal lead. For Driussi, he will try to become the first player in MLS history to overcome a two-goal Golden Boot deficit by scoring a hat trick on the final day of the regular season.

Mukhtar faces the tall task of going on the road to face newly-crowned Supporters’ Shield winners LAFC in the chase to win the scoring crown. In the most pressure packed moment, will the German star hold off Driussi’s dramatic charge on Decision Day?

Columbus Crew 2 To Host St Louis CITY2 in Inaugural MLS NEXT Pro Cup This Saturday

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The first-ever MLS NEXT Pro Cup will take place Saturday, October 8 in Columbus, Ohio, when the number one seeds from MLS NEXT Pro’s inaugural season face off. 

Eastern Conference champion Columbus Crew 2 will take on Western Conference champion St Louis CITY2 at Lower.com Field (1:30 p.m. ET) to determine the first MLS NEXT Pro Cup Champion.  

Crew 2 defeated Toronto FC II, 4-3, in a thrilling Eastern Conference Final Sunday night. With his team trailing 2-1 in stoppage time, Toronto’s Themi Antonoglou (90’+3’) forced extra time to keep TFC II’s chances alive. Antonoglou then quickly put Toronto ahead with an incredible goal from midfield just four minutes into the extra session. Columbus battled back, scoring twice in the last 11 minutes, including Coleman Gannon’s game-winner in the final minute (119’).

Later Sunday night, St Louis CITY2 defeated Tacoma Defiance, 2-1, in the Western Conference Final. CITY2 led 2-0 in the second half after goals by Tomáš Ostrák (31’) and Josh Dolling (59’) before Abdoulaye Cissoko’s successful penalty kick (76’) brought Tacoma within a goal. St Louis held off the Defiance comeback attempt to capture the Western Conference title.

Fans everywhere can watch MLS NEXT Pro Cup live on mlsnextpro.com.

Week 34 - English