Happy Friday. Leave work if you somehow haven't. Spend some quality time with friends and family on Saturday. Eat some cider donuts. Savor a nice cup of coffee. Go for a jog or play pickup. Run your errands, even the ones you're dreading.
You’ve got until 2 p.m. ET on Sunday to make the people you love feel attended to and knock out everything on your to-do list. After that, it’s time for soccer and a four-hour sprint of high-stakes MLS action, the perfect prelude to Decision Day presented by A&T and the Audi 2018 MLS Cup Playoffs.
Matchday Central starts at 2 p.m. ET (watch on MLSsoccer.com, YouTube, Twitter or Facebook), the Eastern Conference games kick off an hour later with Atlanta-Chicago leading the way on ESPN and Zlatan plus the rest of the Western Conference taking center stage at 5 p.m. ET, after which you’ll head back to MDC and put a bow on Week 34.
Maybe you’ll stick with ESPN’s showcase. Maybe you’ll gather all your devices in one place and rubberneck on ESPN+. I’ll be at the MLS studio, occasionally yelling at a bank of televisions. Here are 10 things I’ll be watching:
Will Atlanta celebrate the Shield – and a CCL berth – at home?
They could do both. They could do neither. Before you go counting those points, Five Stripes faithful, remember what the Fire did to LAFC a couple weeks ago.
It’d be preferable for Atlanta United to just bury Chicago and seal the deal on both, especially given the long-term uncertainty swirling as we await the widely reported potential departures of Tata Martino and Miguel Almiron. We don’t talk about it much, but Martino’s league trophy case is relatively limited. What if he leaves MLS for El Tri without a cup title to show for his two years in the spotlight?
ATLUTD can end that conversation before it really starts on Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Better to raise the Supporters’ Shield in front of, you know, your own supporters.
Can someone wrest MVP from Josef Martinez?
That sentence would have landed me in the insane asylum back in late August when Martinez obliterated the single-season goal record. But now? Now it doesn’t seem so crazy.
I already explained how Zlatan can make a case. If Bradley Wright-Phillips bangs in a couple and leads the Red Bulls to the Shield, then what? People are in my Twitter mentions floating Wayne Rooney’s name, too.
Point is, the Venezuelan’s candidacy isn’t as bulletproof as it was a few months ago. Still, he’s got a golden opportunity to make the Landon Donovan Most Valuable Player Award all his own since Atlanta can’t lean on the injured Almiron.
Will RSL’s scheduling quirk rob us of Decision Day drama?
One team’s 2018 regular season ends on Sunday. That’d be Real Salt Lake, thanks to the fact that it’s just not possible to shoehorn 23 teams into 11 slots on Decision Day. Even and odd numbers, you know?
The final two playoff spots out West come down to RSL, the Timbers, Galaxy and ‘Caps.* Let’s say Portland and RSL draw or Portland win head-to-head on Sunday and both Vancouver and LA fail to win. In that scenario, then the top six will be set heading into Decision Day, though seeding would remain in the balance. That’d be awesome for fans of those two teams, but a huge bummer for neutral fans rooting for maximum drama (Zlatan!) on the season’s final day.
*Vancouver’s poor goal differential means they’re still alive in name only. I’m going to operate under the assumption that they’re done. Time to ogle Alphonso Davies in the open field a few more times, hire a new head coach and focus on 2019.
For purely viewing purposes, let’s hope for a draw or loss for RSL in Portland, and a win from the Galaxy in Minnesota. We’d go into the final matchday of the season with the Timbers safe but RSL and LA separated by a single point, with the Galaxy fighting tooth-and-nail for that final playoff berth.
Remember last year’s histrionics that ended with San Jose in – along with Dallas and RSL out? More of that please.
Will Kansas City finish strong … and out of the KO Round?
I know it felt good to pummel Vancouver at the death, but the ‘Caps aren’t a playoff team and they barely pretended to defend at the end of that match.
Sporting Kansas City aren’t out of the woods (aka KO Round) just yet. They go to FC Dallas this weekend for a game that doesn’t have the wattage of Zlatan in Minnesota but has far more actual collective soccer quality.
So how will Peter Vermes’ team respond? This is the perfect time to boost their so-so record against current playoff teams (4-6-4, wins against D.C., Atlanta, LAFC and Portland) and lock in the playoff bye that will keep The Cauldron from hyperventilating about a fifth straight one-and-done Knockout Round exit.
Now they just have to do it … against the two teams who want nothing more than to push them down the table.
Can D.C. United complete the turnaround? And what will LuchoRoo do?
What a run it’s been. And yet it could still all be for naught, in 2018 terms at least.
New York City FC are scuffling. They’re missing Maxi Moralez, Jesus Medina, Jo Inge Berget and, for months now, Yangel Herrera. While D.C. went 11-3-4 from July 14 on, NYCFC stumbled to a 4-5-4 record that dropped them out of the “Big Three” in the East.
The Black-and-Red can qualify for the playoffs this weekend. Best not to mess around, especially when it’s their last home game of the season and they’ve got just one road victory all season. Also, I’d like my playoff prediction to come true so Quincy Amarikwa can’t gloat on Twitter.
SIDENOTE This could be a Knockout Round preview.
Zlatan vs. 50,000 Minnesotans
Zlatan has a thing or two to learn about being “Minnesota Nice.”
"I owe them to come,” said the Galaxy’s walking soundbyte about playing in front of the 50,000-plus expected to pack TCF Bank Stadium in the final game at MNUFC’s inaugural MLS venue. “Obviously, they don't have this crowd every home game, so I'm sure they're not coming for Minnesota. So, I come and I make them enjoy."
I am on pins and needles waiting to see what the Dark Clouds and True North Elite, quirky and hilarious #$%& talkers, have waiting for Zlatan. And Zlatan for them! There are goals in this game. Like double-digit goals. I'm setting the over/under at 7.5 and that feel cautious. I can’t wait.
Will the Union pass their playoff practice test?
I like the Union – they play good soccer with young players – but I’m keeping a close eye on how they respond to what is, in essence, a playoff game.
Philly desperately want that home game in the Knockout Round, and the Red Bulls know they’ve got to win to stay alive in the Shield and CCL race. How will the Union respond? Their last go-round on the big stage was a flop, yet another U.S. Open Cup final awash in disappointment.
This game will tell us, in part, whether they’re ready for the big time, and it’s a potential Conference Semifinal matchup to boot.
Will Wondo tie or break the record? Or neither?
For the record, I hope Chris Wondolowski breaks it this weekend at home against Colorado. Better not to drag it into 2019, and I want it to happen in San Jose for Wondo and Quakes supporters’ sake. They deserve it after this year.
My prediction is that he ties it on Sunday. From there, my heart says he breaks it against the Sounders, but my head says this season is destined to be heartbreaking in every way for San Jose so we’ll have to keep #WondoWatch going through the winter.
Who will play spoiler, even though their season is done?
Spoilers, ranked by pettiness:
- Toronto winning in Montreal to end their arch-rival’s season
- 50k Minnesotans rubbing Zlatan’s face in playoff failure
- Chicago denying Atlanta United a Supporters’ Shield celebration at MBS
- Houston dropping Seattle (2017 Western Conference Championship rematch!) into a KO Round roadie
- Crew SC and the USMNT manager-in-waiting losing to [gulp] historically bad Orlando City
- Whitecaps deliver blow to LAFC’s chase for a KO Round bye
OK, so what’s going to be at stake on Decision Day?
That’s really what this is all about, right? We'll find out soon! Week 34 is going to be must-watch stuff, and Decision Day and the postseason are all about the narratives. Let me know what you’re rooting for!