With 11 matches kicking off simultaneously, Decision Day presented by AT&T is going to be a pure, exhilarating rush of MLS action to close out the regular season.
There's a lot to discuss and dive into ahead of the weekend; There will be even more to discuss and dive into after all 11 matches have been completed. Heading into Decision Day, here are five matchups to focus on.
Matt Besler vs. Adama Diomande
One of the team's best performances of the season, Sporting Kansas City went into Dallas and dropped FC Dallas 3-0 last weekend to jump to the top of the Western Conference. In the aftermath of the match, Besler wasn't shy for allowing a window into his visceral emotions from the day, much of which wasn't flattering to his opponents. Then he playfully called out LAFC co-owner Will Ferrell.
I'm here for all of it. Besler will be in the spotlight again after FS1 chose this game to air nationally and he'll have a tough task.
Against LAFC's efficient, and egalitarian, attack, it'll mostly be a battle of units. Carlos Vela will float, the wingers will swap touchlines and the midfielders will be fluid. But one player who will be generally anchored is the center forward, likely to be Diomande. Emotions may run high given the stakes and combined with how neither player shirks a good ol' shoulder barge, that battle could be fun.
Dio has picked up form since returning from injury, and has developed his chemistry with Vela, but their last three games came against teams below the playoff line. Let's see what happens against playoff-bound SKC and the league's third-stingiest defense.
Tyler Adams vs. Sacha Kljestan
Sure, it's not the sexiest matchup of the weekend, but crucial to the Shield. If Orlando City are going to do much in attack against the New York Red Bulls, it'll go through Kljestan. The No. 10 loves to set up his office right in territory owned and operated solely by Tyler Adams at Red Bull Arena.
Kljestan is enduring his statistically worst season since rejoining MLS, with the Red Bulls, in 2015. But he scored the winning goal against Columbus Crew SC last weekend and generally looked on form for the 90 minutes, back up to his old tricks that saw him as the league's assist king for the last two seasons. He's already on the record that he desperately hopes to play spoiler to his former team's Shield hopes.
Adams has been one of the best midfield destroyers in the league this year. To boot, the former teammates will know each other inside out from time spent on the training field.
Toronto FC vs. Atlanta's Shield party at BMO
When the league schedule was released, Toronto vs Atlanta would have been circled as Decision Day's marquee matchup. TFC, it appeared, would be every bit as good as their historical 2017 edition and Atlanta would be a heavyweight yet again.
It hasn't happened that way for Toronto, of course, but the game Sunday is still entirely interesting. With too many matchups to watch, let's take a macro look at this one: will Toronto show up with the requisite zeal, intensity and pride to fight against Atlanta, holding (at least momentarily) their 2017 record for points? Or will they fold, have an eye on an offseason lasting about a month and a half longer than they would have planned in preseason? We'll know within a few minutes.
Bastian Schweinsteiger vs. LuchoRoo
Remarkably, D.C. United aren't playing for their playoff lives on Decision Day, but for potentially hosting a knockout game. A win in Chicago would do the trick. There will be no surprises about how D.C. will try and accomplish that: lean on Wayne Rooney and Lucho Acosta.
The pair will be dealt with, largely, by Rooney's former Manchester United teammate Bastian Schweinsteiger. When the two teams met at Audi Field earlier this month, Schweinsteiger started in defense.
It worked for a while, too. The Fire took a 1-0 lead in the second half before Rooney rescued all three points with two goals. It'll be another tall task for Schweinsteiger and Co. on Sunday.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic vs. ... all 11 Dynamo players?
It would be unfair to pinpoint a singular defender to suppress Ibrahimovic, who is having the most efficient season in league history by way of goals + assists per 90 minutes. Plus, if someone asked Ibrahimovic about any individual/group matchup, the chances are next to none that he'd do anyone the courtesy of naming them. He'd probably say something like gravity or mortality. But, in reality, defending Ibrahimovic will take a team effort.
Truth be told, Minnesota United did a decent job last weekend except for a few moments. In those moments, Zlatan popped up with a goal and assist. It's got to be a comprehensive, 90-minute effort.
To borrow from the NFL, ex-New York Giants defensive coordinator let the world know of his simple plan to stop star Philadelphia Eagles running back Brian Westbrook, which applies to how the Dynamo will have to deal with Ibrahimovic.
"We need 22 eyes on No. 36, every play," Steve Spagnuolo said a decade ago. "Just know where he is if there's a chance he's going to get the ball."
The Dynamo need 22 eyes on No. 9, every play.