DECISION_DAY_CHEAT_SHEET (1)

What week is it? I have no idea and (finally) it doesn’t matter! It’s Decision Day.

Watch-along Show

MLS’ regular-season finales are at the same time on Sunday – watch the Eastern Conference at 3:30 pm ET, then continue through 6 pm ET for the Western Conference – and the context hits you over the head like a cartoon frying pan. Win/draw/lose-and-get-lucky or your season is over. It’s going to get crazy/confusing/weird. Trust me when I say the LIVE standings and second screen watch-along will be your best friends as the drama unfolds. Let’s experience it together.

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Tom Bogert did us all a solid and put the totality of the stakes in one place. Here are the cliff notes:

Eastern Conference

  • Three remaining playoff spots for six teams
  • Seeding TBD in spots 2-4 (home-field advantage in Round One), with Philadelphia and Nashville guaranteed at least one home playoff game
  • Four teams (NYC, ATL, ORL or RBNY*) mathematically able to claim a Round One home game by finishing 4th

Western Conference

  • Three remaining playoff spots for five teams
  • Seeding TBD in spots 1-3 (top team gets playoff bye, top two get Concacaf Champions League spots)
  • All Round One home games claimed: Timbers will be the fourth seed, no matter the results on Sunday

Here’s how stat magician and MLS historian extraordinaire Rick Lawes described the day’s happenings:

“There have never been this many teams alive before for Decision Day, nor this many placings still up in the air.”

Nice. Here are the full scenarios.

Now that I’ve hit you over the head with some cast iron cookware – always remember to season your pan, folks – let’s get to it in the same format as last week: by ranking every Decision Day match by playoff implications from least to most.

13
San Jose Earthquakes vs. FC Dallas
BetMGM odds: SJ +110 | Draw +270 | DAL +210

Webster’s Dictionary defines PFP (playing for pride) as … this game.

Why I’m watching: This could be Ricardo Pepi’s final MLS game for FC Dallas, and it will certainly be his final game before starting for the US men’s national team against Mexico in Cincinnati for November's World Cup qualifier. His form matters and a final memento would be nice should a big-money transfer materialize this winter.

Watch: Sunday, 6 pm ET on MLS LIVE on ESPN+

12
New England Revolution vs. Inter Miami CF
BetMGM odds: NE -275 | Draw +425 | MIA +650

New England are the No. 1 overall seed and Supporters’ Shield winners, and Inter Miami are strictly PFP. No playoff implications here.

Why I’m watching: The chase for 76 and a Supporters’ Shield celebration. The Revs could extend their points record to even further heights. If they do, are they unquestionably the best regular-season team in MLS history? It’d be harder to argue no with a four-point cushion on 2019 LAFC. Bruce Arena said this week that he’ll play his best lineup. Might as well bring three more points to the Shield party! Lift it, Bruce!

Watch: Sunday, 3:30 pm ET on MLS LIVE on ESPN+

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11
Portland Timbers vs. Austin FC
BetMGM odds: POR -150 | Draw +320 | ATX +333

Austin sure PFPed hard on Wednesday night! They’ll PFP again in Portland, where Decision Day can change ABSOLUTELY NOTHING about the Timbers’ playoff place. They’re the fourth seed in the Western Conference no matter what happens.

Why I’m watching: Sebastian Blanco. What a friggin’ genius. With him firing, Portland might just win MLS Cup.

Watch: Sunday, 6 pm ET on MLS LIVE on ESPN+

10
Columbus Crew vs. Chicago Fire FC
BetMGM odds: CLB -200 | Draw +375 | CHI +425

You already know the Fire are PFP, more on that in a second. The Crew’s playoff chances are theoretically alive … but they must first win to have a chance and even then they’d have almost no chance of jumping over the playoff line. Here’s the winning scenario…

Crew win + DC lose or draw + MTL lose or draw + Red Bulls lose (and Crew make up a goal differential gap of seven goals) = Columbus IN the playoffs

Yeahhhhh, they won’t be defending MLS Cup.

Why I’m watching: I want to see the lineup Frank Klopas puts out there. Why? Follow the breadcrumbs.

Watch: Sunday, 3:30 pm ET on MLS LIVE on ESPN+

9
FC Cincinnati vs. Atlanta United
BetMGM odds: CIN +310 | Draw +300 | ATL -140
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It’s been three years of PFP for FC Cincinnati, with very little to take pride in on the field. The positive spin is that a new coach is on the way once new general manager Chris Albright gets through his hiring process and decides on the fourth manager (sixth if you count interim tags) in club history.

Atlanta United are basically in the playoff field. They just don’t officially have the “x” next to their name. Here’s the only scenario (it all comes down to tiebreakers vs. Orlando City) in which they’d miss out…

ATL lose by eight goals to CIN + RBNY win or draw + MTL beat ORL 1-0 = Atlanta OUT of the playoffs

The scorelines can change, but the margins would have to stay the same to make up the goal differential gap. So yeah, not going to happen. Atlanta could also clinch a top-four seed with a win in Cincinnati, plus an NYCFC loss to the Union at Yankee Stadium and Orlando loss or draw.

Why I’m watching: I watched all of Atlanta’s scoreless draw at Red Bull Arena on Wednesday night. They created nothing. That’s not hyperbole. Nothing. That was with Luiz Araujo, Ezequiel Barco and Marcelino Moreno in the XI and Josef Martinez off the bench. That group put up 0.1 xG. They won’t go far in the playoffs with that sort of (lack of) production from their marquee players. Luckily, TQL Stadium seems to be an elixir for creative blocks and goalscoring woes.

Watch: Sunday, 3:30 pm ET on MLS LIVE on ESPN+

8
Toronto FC vs. D.C. United
BetMGM odds: TOR +175 | Draw +260 | DC +130

Toronto are PFP – and momentum in the Canadian Championship – but they sure seem to be enjoying the spoiler role.

As for the spoiling, D.C. United are not in control of their own destiny. They must beat Toronto on the road, where they are 2-10-4 this year, then the Red Bulls must lose AND Montreal must lose or tie. If all that happens, Hernan Losada’s boys are playoff-bound!

Why I’m watching: Jozy Altidore. It sure seems like he’s back in form. That CanChamp goal against Pacific FC was a thing of beauty. Good timing for his career (and perhaps for Gregg Berhalter?)! Could we see him with the US national team soon? Don’t count Altidore out. I’m hitting follow on whatever happens next for him.

Watch: Sunday, 3:30 pm ET on TSN 4, MLS LIVE on ESPN+

7. New York City FC vs. Philadelphia Union
BetMGM odds: NYC -135 | Draw +290 | PHI +300

No more PFPs! Hooray!

Both NYCFC and Philly are IN, so there’s nothing existential about this one. The Union know they’ll have a home game, but it’d be best to avoid the Revs for as long as possible and be guaranteed to host a conference semifinal as well. Win at Yankee Stadium, and they’ll lock in as the No. 2 seed.

NYCFC, though three points back of Philadelphia, are in a similar position. They just need help from the Red Bulls. If they win and the Red Bulls beat Nashville, the blue side of New York will finish second in the East. If NYCFC don’t win, either Atlanta or Orlando can jump them with a win. If they draw, they’ll get the No. 4 seed on the wins tiebreaker. Got it?

Why I’m watching: This could be a conference semifinal. It could be a conference final. I always watch the previews before I see a movie in the big theater. Plus, Taty Castellanos is chasing the Golden Boot presented by Audi with 18g/8a at present. That’s fun.

Watch: Sunday, 3:30 pm ET on MLS LIVE on ESPN+

6
Nashville SC vs. New York Red Bulls
BetMGM odds: NSH +145 | Draw +195 | RBNY +200
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Nashville are in the same situation as Philly, both sit on 53 points, but they need help from NYCFC to finish second in the East. That’s because Nashville are, according to amateur MLS Twitter statisticians, still a subpar team. Wait, what? How does that make any sense when they’ve just lost four times all year? Well, they haven’t yet won 13 games, which is the historic and universally accepted cutoff for such things. I don’t make the rules! I kid, but actually it does matter because the first tiebreaker wins, and they trail the Union and NYCFC 12 to 14.

The Red Bulls’ playoff scenario is simple. If they win or draw in Nashville, they’re in. No matter what happens on Decision Day, if they make the playoffs, they’d go on the road in Round One. Should they lose, it basically comes down to Montréal and D.C. United – I know the Crew are mathematically in it as well (but not really, see above) – failing to get all three points.

Why I’m watching: Can Nashville win (key word) a home game with playoff-level stakes? That’s the test in the actual playoffs, and though they’re undefeated at home … they’ve drawn eight of 16 games, which would mean a 50 percent chance for visiting teams to spring an extra-time or shootout upset. I want to see if Gary Smith’s team can handle their business in 90 minutes against a potential Round One opponent.

Watch: Sunday, 3:30 pm ET on ESPN, ESPN Deportes

5
Vancouver Whitecaps FC vs. Seattle Sounders
BetMGM odds: VAN +175 | Draw +250 | SEA +135

The Whitecaps are in the same position as the Red Bulls. Win or draw at B.C. Place, where they are 7-1-0 this year, and they’re in. If they can’t do that, they need at least two of the clubs below them to biff it.

The Sounders could finish anywhere from first to third in the Western Conference. The top two spots come with 2022 Concacaf Champions League spots. Win and they’ll for sure play CCL ball next year. Draw or lose and that’s a maybe depending on results in Kansas City and Colorado.

Why I’m watching: ANDIAMO! The Western Conference playoffs will be better with the Whitecaps in the field. I want them to make it! From an MLS Cup contender perspective, I think we’re all interested in seeing how Nico Lodeiro and Raul Ruidiaz fare in their return from injury layoffs to starting roles and whether Jordan Morris can change the match off the bench. They’re all Best XI quality, but they’re not yet match fit or in rhythm for Seattle. Yet.

Watch: Sunday, 6 pm ET on TSN 1/4, MLS LIVE on ESPN+

4
Sporting Kansas City vs. Real Salt Lake
BetMGM odds: SKC -145 | Draw +300 | RSL +350

Real Salt Lake have to win. Period. Do that and they’re in since only one of Minnesota and the Galaxy can surpass 48 points (goal differential’s at play, too).

For SKC, you can just scroll up and reread the Sounders section. Sporting could finish anywhere from 1-3 in the West. If they win, no matter the other results, they’ll qualify for CCL.

Why I’m watching: First of all, to see if RSL can prove the doubters wrong in a season of unimaginable uncertainty and make the playoffs, on the road no less! Second, both teams laid big, fat eggs on Wednesday night. Who has the shortest memory when it matters most?

Watch: Sunday, 6 pm ET on MLS LIVE on ESPN+

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3
Colorado Rapids vs. LAFC
BetMGM odds: COL +120 | Draw +250 | LAFC +200

With a win, the Rapids could finish atop the Western Conference. I repeat … THE RAPIDS COULD FINISH ATOP THE WEST. No matter what happens, they won’t finish lower than the No. 3 seed. Pretty heady stuff.

LAFC are below the line, which means they need three points and some help. Step one, win. Step two, hope either Vancouver lose OR Real Salt Lake lose or tie. If that happens, thanks to the Loons and Galaxy going head-to-head and LAFC’s positive goal differential – the only team outside the top four in the West that can say that! – then Bob Bradley’s boys will be in! It’s not out of the realm of possibility!

Why I’m watching: I know I’m going to watch the Rapids again this year. I don’t know that about LAFC. Or Bob Bradley coaching LAFC. Or Carlos Vela playing for LAFC.

Watch: Sunday, 6 pm ET on MLS LIVE on ESPN+

2
LA Galaxy vs. Minnesota United FC
BetMGM odds: LA +100 | Draw +260 | MIN +230

Both teams are in with a win, but only one team can win! Minnesota United are in with a tie, but that won’t help the Galaxy unless they get help. Speaking of help, both teams are currently above the line, which means they can both make it if LAFC and RSL stumble in any way. For this one, it’s better if you just read the scenarios from Mr. Lawes.

Why I’m watching: This game is a stumbling block for the rest of the Western Conference bubble. What happens here helps determine what happens everywhere.

Watch: Sunday, 6 pm ET on FS1, FOX Deportes

1
CF Montréal vs. Orlando City SC
BetMGM odds: MTL +100 | Draw +250 | ORL +240

This is a must-win for Montréal, and not the kind where the season continues if they don’t win. If they win, they’re in. If they lose, they’re out. If they draw, they’re out. They must win.

Orlando City are in with a win or a draw OR a Red Bulls loss. There is also that Atlanta United seven-goal differential gap, but you and I know that’s not happening. They need to get a result, otherwise it’s going to be a nerve-wracking day. Let’s be honest, it’s just going to be a nerve-wracking day. Missing the playoffs would be a catastrophe.

Why I’m watching: It smells like desperation, 90 minutes of pure desperation!

Watch: Sunday, 3:30 pm ET on TSN1, MLS LIVE on ESPN+