Wayne Rooney - DC United - October 7, 2018
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Wiebe: Running the rule over Sunday's slate around MLS

I know, I know. You’re used to five MLS questions heading into the weekend. I’m used to writing it. We’re in a groove, and normally I’d let it ride.

But this time of year is different. There are only two matchdays left. It’s time to break out of our comfort zone and up the ante, same as it’ll be between the white lines. We’re covering every single game because every single game matters, in pursuit of four remaining Audi 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs berths, home-field advantage or just a little pride (looking at you, FC Cincinnati-Orlando City).

Carve out six hours on Sunday for the full MLS experience. The Eastern Conference kicks off at 5 pm ET, and the Western Conference at 7:30 pm ET. You can watch on FS1, TSN or jump around on ESPN+/DAZN. Matchday Central bookends the day, with pregame show at 4:30 pm ET and the Week 30 wrap at 9:30 pm ET (MLSsoccer.com, MLS app, Facebook, Twitter).

You know the drill. Hit play on Extratime (or just subscribe wherever you listen to podcasts to have it delivered to your phone every Monday and Thursday) and start reading.

Eastern Conference – All games at 5 pm ET

Chicago Fire vs. Toronto FC (ESPN+ in the US, TSN in Canada)

This is a must-win game for the Fire. Lose and they’re done. Even if they win, they need the Revs to drop points (more on that in a bit). There are stakes beyond the immediate for the Men in Red too, especially since a new owner, Joe Mansueto, is heading into his first offseason. Repeated failure often means change, and this team has made the playoffs once in the last five seasons (most likely six).

Toronto FC haven’t lost in the league since Aug. 3, but it’s not all good vibes after a penalty-kick shootout loss to Montreal in the Canadian Championship. Bounce back now or hit the road in the playoffs. It’s not complicated for Greg Vanney.

FC Cincinnati vs. Orlando City (ESPN+ in the US, MLS LIVE on DAZN in Canada)

Orlando City are still technically alive in the playoff race. I could technically win the lottery, too. Either could happen, but let’s be real, neither will.

Cincy took the Wooden Spoon in their first MLS season. Given the way their fans supported them through some thin times, it’d be nice to send the home crowd into the offseason with a win.

Columbus Crew vs. Philadelphia Union (ESPN+ in the US, MLS LIVE on DAZN in Canada)

Philadelphia are playing for a couple things here: home-field advantage in the Conference semis should both they and Atlanta advance, pole position for a CCL spot should one of LAFC, Atlanta or NYCFC win MLS Cup and momentum ahead of a Decision Day presented by AT&T clash against NYCFC. Winning is contagious, best to keep winning.

Side note, Kacper Pryzbylko is having a monster year.

Montreal Impact vs. Atlanta United (ESPN+ in the US, TVAS in Canada)

The Impact are in the same boat as Orlando. Logic and the table say the playoffs are just a little too far out of reach. But Montreal have something the Lions don’t: a consolation prize in the form of the Voyageurs Cup and a CCL berth in 2020. Might as well try to send a message about what’s to come next year against an Atlanta United team missing its biggest star.

Speaking of which, it’s been a quiet news week when it comes to Josef Martinez’s injury status. We got a zero-gravity treadmill clip set to the Rocky theme song, and that’s about it. Looks cool/encouraging, until you realize there’s most definitely gravity in the playoffs. Let’s see how Frank de Boer lines up the Five Stripes after Wednesday’s mauling at Yankee Stadium.

New England Revolution vs. NYCFC (ESPN+ in the US, MLS LIVE on DAZN in Canada)

The Revs were not happy (think rescinded red card to Antonio Delamea) about their last match against NYCFC (a 2-1 road loss), who will clinch the East’s top seed and a Concacaf Champions League place with a win, tie or anything but three points for the Union. Well, here’s a shot at redemption, and New England need to take advantage of it for more than “we told you so” reasons.

They’re four points up on Chicago. A win and they’re in, and the East field would be set. Anything else and a Chicago home win against Toronto FC and the gap is down to one or two points. Decision Day would present a cruel scenario. The Fire would be in Orlando, the Revs in Atlanta. Let it stretch one more week and … yeah, better to just win and be done with it.

New York Red Bulls vs. D.C. United (FS1 in the US, MLS LIVE on DAZN in Canada)

The old rivals are No. 4 and No. 5 in the standings right now, on track to meet each other in the first round of the playoffs. This game may well decide where that game is played. D.C. have won three straight. The Red Bulls have won two straight. Perhaps this match and a playoff clash could inject some much-needed vitriol into the fading Atlantic Cup.

Hmmmm, that’s an interesting one. D.C. are just one win better at home than on the road this year. You might say home-field advantage isn’t that important for Ben Olsen’s boys. Maybe it is better to avoid NYCFC for as long as possible, though it looks like they might not play their matches at Yankee Stadium either, and hope for a Josef-less Atlanta.

In the West, I’d say avoid LAFC for as long as possible at all costs. In the East, I don’t think it matters as much. Building momentum/belief and playing a one-off at home is better than looking past a playoff game you’re not guaranteed to win anyway, especially if it’s at Red Bull Arena.

Western Conference – All games at 7:30 pm ET

Colorado Rapids vs. FC Dallas (ESPN+ in the US, MLS LIVE on DAZN in Canada)

Dallas control their own destiny. They’ve got a couple paths into the playoffs, all of which revolve around them getting results and San Jose and Portland biffing it.

The Team Chaos preference would be for Colorado to win this game and all three of the above to lose. That would mean the Rapids could get in Decision Day with a win against LAFC and some more help. That would be insane, and awesome because Conor Casey/Robin Fraser’s team is 11-6-4 since Anthony Hudson was let go back in May. That’s more wins than the Timbers, Dallas and San Jose have in the same timeframe.

If you take any lesson from all this, it ought to be this: don’t lose nine of your first 11 games. 

Sporting KC vs. Portland Timbers (ESPN+ in the US, MLS LIVE on DAZN in Canada)

Sporting KC are officially cast in the role of Western Conference spoilers, home against the Timbers and away to FC Dallas to end the season. They may decide which team joins them below the playoff line out West. Portland have to be happy to get out of town, which sounds weird but makes sense considering they’re 2-4-2 in their last eight games, all at Providence Park, a stretch that was supposed to make their season once upon a time.

The good news is if the Timbers win and either Dallas or San Jose lose, they’ll be in despite all the recent scuffling. Of course, it’s not just about the playoffs right now for the Timbers. There’s that whole Diego Valeri contract saga, too. I think Chris Rifer’s got a pretty good take on that.

LA Galaxy vs. Vancouver Whitecaps (ESPN+ in the US, TSN in Canada)

The Galaxy are going to win this game. I’m willing to Baerantee that. In doing so, they’ll guarantee themselves at least one home game in the playoffs.

If I’m Guillermo Barros Schelotto, I’m doing everything in my power to make Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Cristian Pavon feel like unstoppable superheroes in the season’s final two weeks. If those two are feeling it, the Galaxy’s #RaceToSeis will be on.

Minnesota United vs. LAFC (FS1 in the US, MLS LIVE on DAZN in Canada)

Guess who have two wins and just one loss against LAFC all-time? The Loons. Guess who are in the playoffs and trying to go two-for-two against the Shield winners in 2019? The Loons. Guess who still has a chip on his shoulder? Adrian Heath.

Here’s Heath’s money quote after Wednesday’s postseason-clinching, last-second win against Sporting KC: “I didn’t read one magazine, I didn’t read one publication that tipped us to be in the Western Conference Playoffs.”

Whatever it takes to motivate yourself, I say. Below is Bobby Warshaw’s reaction on Extratime, during a segment in which we also pointed out that four of seven pundits (myself not included, whoops) predicted the Loons would make the playoffs.

Meanwhile, LAFC are trying to set the all-time single season points record (three back of 2018 Red Bulls’ 71) and Carlos Vela is one goal from tying Martinez’s single-season goal record. This is the late game to watch, and FS1’s got it for you.

Real Salt Lake vs. Houston Dynamo (ESPN+ in the US, MLS LIVE on DAZN in Canada)

Matt Doyle says RSL are the West’s sleeper team. Read all about it here. If I’m being honest, don’t know what to expect from this RSL team, which is what makes them a sleeper, I guess.

San Jose Earthquakes vs. Seattle Sounders (ESPN+ in the US, MLS LIVE on DAZN in Canada)

This stat has to be frustrating for San Jose supporters.

Three of those points were dropped midweek. Now the Earthquakes have to get right back at it. At least they’ll have Chris Wondolowski in the lineup instead of in the stands. The hope is he’ll go shirtless again … after scoring a goal or two himself.

The Sounders feel like they’re just treading water until playoff time. A point would be fine, then it’s home against Minnesota on Decision Day. They just want a home game in the first round. Four points will be enough to get that done.

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