Decision Day isn't until Oct. 23, but there's plenty of late-season tension to go around this week in MLS as teams jockey to get into postseason position – or keep it. For those who have clinched spots, there's still a Supporters' Shield race out there, and homefield advantage and first-round byes to be secured.
Here are the stories to watch in Week 33:
Can Sounders keep the W train rolling?
Seattle Sounders FC have won four straight matches and climbed to fifth place in the Western Conference – with a match in hand on three of the four teams ahead of them. Next up: a home date on Wednesday against the Houston Dynamo, the West's cellar dwellers.
That fifth straight win is no lock, though. The Sounders haven't beaten the Dynamo since April 4, 2015, with three straight 1-1 draws since then, and Houston's Mauro Manotas has five goals in his last three games.
Morris was released to return to MLS play after the United States' 2-0 friendly victory in Cuba on Friday, and Lodeiro is back from duty with Uruguay after both scoring and seeing yellow – triggering a caution-accumulation suspension – in last week's 3-0 2018 World Cup qualifying victory over Venezuela. Lodeiro also is coming off a yellow-card suspension in MLS play.
Last gasp for Crew SC
OK, so a draw away to the Chicago Fire on Thursday would keep Columbus Crew SC's chances of making the Audi 2016 MLS Cup Playoffs alive by the slimmest of threads – at least until the weekend. Realistically, though, the 2015 MLS Cup runners-up need to win out, taking all nine points from their last three matches, and even then, they'll need help from elsewhere.
Still, hope is alive for the moment. Crew SC have won three of their last four, with Chicago winless in five and on a three-match losing streak. The last-place and already-eliminated Fire could play a spoiler role, though, even if they do nothing more than force Columbus to split the points.
Speaking of strikers coming back early...
The San Jose Earthquakes sit eighth in the Western Conference. But with three matches left to play – starting with Thursday's visit to Colorado – they still have time to get into the playoffs for the first time since their Shield-winning 2012 season.
They'll have Chris Wondolowski back after scoring the winner against Cuba, with Wondo – like Morris – released by US coach Jurgen Klinsmann ahead of Tuesday's friendly against New Zealand because both of their MLS teams are fighting for playoff spots.
The Rapids have plenty to play for themselves, though. They're just two points behind Shield leaders and domestic-treble hopefuls FC Dallas, with a match in hand. A victory on Thursday would put them atop the standings – but either way, the race for the Shield will be neck-and-neck going into Sunday's matches.
SUNDAY, SUNDAY, SUNDAY! (Westside Edition)
Regardless of the midweek outcomes, two matches in the West on Sunday will have huge implications on the Supporters' Shield race – and beyond.
By the weekend, depending on how things shake out on Wednesday and Thursday, FC Dallas could be out of the Shield lead and facing a Sounders side on a five-match roll. Then again, the Rapids might still be in the No. 2 spot when they visit a Portland Timbers squad desperately trying just to get back into the playoffs after their wild run to the 2015 MLS Cup title.
Portland will go into the weekend in seventh place, two points behind Sporting Kansas City. A loss wouldn't doom them, but a victory – especially if Real Salt Lake clinch a playoff spot by beating Sporting at home on Sunday – would go a long way. Sporting have a lot to fight for, though, as they try to extend their postseason streak to six years.
SUNDAY, SUNDAY, SUNDAY! (Eastside Edition)
It would take winless stretch runs by both FC Dallas and the Rapids to give New York's co-East leaders a shot at slipping past for the Shield title – one decided without tiebreakers, at least. Both are on 51 points, five behind Dallas and three back of Colorado. But in this league, anything can happen.
The Red Bulls, who comfortably lead New York City FC on goal differential, will be facing a Crew SC side that – depending on Thursday's result – could still be on a roll and in the hunt for a postseason spot. NYCFC, meanwhile, will be up against a D.C. United squad looking to clinch a playoff spot with a victory on Sunday.
The Montreal Impact also could clinch on Sunday, by beating Toronto FC at home. And speaking of TFC, who already have booked a playoff spot...what happened? They've dropped to third in the East, two points back of the co-leaders, and their hopes of a first-round bye are in jeopardy. Finally getting Sebastian Giovinco back from muscle strains that have sidelined him since late August would help, but he's still listed as questionable.