Decision Day

Win or go home: NYCFC, Chicago know Decision Day stakes


A thousand miles or so north of DRV PNK Stadium, watching at home with his father, Santiago Rodríguez breathed a sigh of relief as Robbie Robinson first-time volleyed Leonardo Campana’s cross into the back of the net.

The 84th-minute strike not only salvaged a late, 2-2 home draw for Inter Miami CF Wednesday night against Charlotte FC – it also salvaged New York City FC’s chances of making the Audi 2023 MLS Cup Playoffs.

“Yeah, I celebrated,” admitted Rodríguez to reporters, two days before the Cityzens host Chicago Fire FC Saturday evening at Citi Field (6 pm ET | MLS Season Pass).

Had Charlotte taken all three points in South Florida, NYCFC (8W-11L-14D, 13th place in the Eastern Conference) would have officially been eliminated from postseason contention – making Decision Day nothing more than a mere formality.

Now they have something to play for against a Chicago side (10W-13L-10D, 11th in the East) that also needs a win and other favorable results to go their way in order to grab one of the conference’s two Wild Card spots (8th & 9th place).

“Yesterday’s tie [between Miami and Charlotte] changed everything,” Rodríguez said. “… We still have hope. A few things need to happen, but the main thing is we have to win.

“… It doesn’t matter if we play pretty or play badly, but we have to win.”

Chicago, who haven’t made the playoffs since 2017, are also facing a win-or-go-home scenario before Saturday’s regular-season finale.

“Look, it's one game right now. You have to put guys that, at the end of the day, you know you can count on,” head coach Frank Klopas said during Wednesday's media availability. “It's not going to be an easy game. Guys that you know are going to leave everything on the field for you and that's going to be the most important thing.”

While forward Chris Mueller remains out with a long-term injury and midfielder Gastón Giménez is unavailable due to yellow card accumulation, Klopas expects to have the majority of the Fire's roster at his disposal – including returning internationals Xherdan Shaqiri, who scored for Switzerland during the October window, along with Brian Gutiérrez, Chris Brady (both with the US U-23s) and Miguel Navarro (Venezuela).

Meanwhile, NYCFC manager Nick Cushing welcomed back Tayvon Gray from national team duty with Jamaica this week as he prepares for a match that will define the club’s season.

“We know that if we win against Chicago and we get in, we’re in as good a place as anybody to go through,” Cushing, an assistant coach during their MLS Cup-winning campaign in 2021, said. “… We’ve got enough understanding and I think experience of playoff football.”

Fire winger Maren Haile-Selassie – on loan from Swiss club Lugano – is equally enthusiastic about his team’s chances, although he warned against getting too caught up on the moment of Decision Day.

“I think it's important to try not to do crazy things,” Haile-Selassie said. “Even though it's an important game, if you overdo a lot of things, it can go bad as well."