This is it. The last weekend of the regular season. Seven months after this journey kicked off, Decision Day presented by AT&T is here.
Here’s your “I’m too lazy to look up all the how-to-watch details” primer before we get into the games, ordered from most important to least important, in my mind at least. I’ve queued up Thursday’s Extratime to the beginning of the weekend preview. Enjoy.
3 pm ET → Matchday Central: Decision Day presented by AT&T Pregame Show
- Jimmy Conrad, Charlie Davies, Matt Doyle, Calen Carr and myself guide you through all the storylines and scenarios w/ check-ins on the ground around MLS
- Expansion Priority Draft as 2020 expansion clubs Nashville SC and Inter Miami CF split draft mechanisms in-studio
4 pm ET → Portland Timbers host San Jose Earthquakes (ESPN) with a playoff place on the line
- Watch the 11 other regional games on ESPN+
- MLS Decision Day presented by AT&T whip-around show on ESPN+
6:30 pm ET → Matchday Central: Decision Day presented by AT&T Postgame Show
- All the highlights, interviews, analysis and stories as we look ahead to the Audi 2019 MLS Cup playoffs
Portland Timbers vs. San Jose Earthquakes (ESPN in the US, MLS LIVE on DAZN in Canada)
Full playoff scenarios here, but these are the basics:
- If Portland win or draw, they’re IN
- If FC Dallas lose or draw, Portland are IN
- If San Jose AND FC Dallas win, Portland are OUT
- If San Jose win, they’re IN
- If San Jose draw, the door is open for the Rapids (with help) to sneak IN
- If San Jose lose, they’re OUT
C’mon, I don’t need to sell you on this game, do I? This is it for both these teams. They control their own destinies, good and bad.
I’m of the opinion that we need as many “fraught” matches as possible in MLS. By that, I mean matches in which every kick of the ball, every run, every tackle, every coaching decision, EVERY SINGLE THING feels like life or death and you can sense it in your bones from the jump. This match is going to be FRAUGHT, and not just because of the obvious playoff implications.
This could be Diego Valeri’s final home match as a Timber. Will there be tifo to honor the Rose City legend? Some sort of goodbye from Timbers Army to their long-time hero? Will Valeri even play? He didn’t last weekend against Sporting KC. This Valeri thing is a weird/sad subplot to the Timbers’ weird 2019 season.
This could be Matias Almeyda’s final match as Quakes’ head coach. Key word: could. You’ve probably heard about the reported Monterrey interest. You’ve probably seen San Jose’s club statement. Almeyda says he’ll sit down with management after the season to discuss his future. Quite the news storm ahead of a make-or-break match. Better for your manager to be in-demand than the other way around.
FC Dallas vs. Sporting KC (MLS LIVE on ESPN+ in the US, on DAZN in Canada)
Again, the playoff scenario basics:
- If FC Dallas win, they’re IN
- If FC Dallas draw and San Jose lose or draw, Dallas are IN
- If San Jose and Colorado lose, Dallas are IN
Good news for Luchi Gonzalez and FC Dallas, Sporting KC are coming to Frisco without Roger Espinoza and Ilie Sanchez, who are suspended. Even better news, their biggest game of the season is a home game. LAFC, NYCFC, Minnesota United and FC Dallas are the only teams in MLS with a single loss at home. They’ve got 84 percent probability to get in, per 538.
David Gass argued on Thursday’s Extratime that the line between success and failure for FC Dallas isn’t tethered to making the playoffs. I get that. They changed head coaches, went with the youth movement, their veteran/TAM/DP signings have been more miss than hit the past two season and just being in this position is the sign of a "successful" season.
Then again, this is a team that took an epic Decision Day guy punch just two years ago. I still remember that post-game interview with Oscar Pareja when San Jose squeaked in on the final day. Another day like that would be hard to swallow, even if Dallas has plenty to be proud of.
LAFC vs. Colorado Rapids (MLS LIVE on ESPN+ in the US, on DAZN in Canada)
Forget the full scenarios. The Rapids gotta beat the best team in the league — and ideally win big in case San Jose draw and it comes down to goal differential — and hope the Earthquakes and FC Dallas fall on their faces. I’m rooting for chaos, as always.
Even if they don’t find a way into the Audi 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs, Colorado are on the right track. You know the story by now. The Rapids, under Anthony Hudson, lost night of their first 11 games. They had two points and zero wins on May 18. They’ve got 15 points in their last six games, and 41 points in the past four-and-a-half months.
Here are the MLS standings, just the top five, counting ONLY the past 22 games…
- LAFC → 13-3-6 … 45 pts
- NYC → 13-5-4 … 43 pts
- COL → 12-6-4 … 40 pts
- MIN → 11-6-5 … 38 pts
- NE → 9-3-10 … 37 pts
Not bad. Not bad at all. Here are the teams Colorado are competing against for the final two playoff spots, with last-five form.
- POR → 10-7-5 … 35 pts (LLDDD)
- SJ → 10-9-3 … 33 pts (LLLLL)
- DAL → 7-8-7 … 28 pts (WLDDL)
Maybe Colorado will get in. Probably they won’t. Maybe Tim Howard will have one more professional game. Probably he won’t. No matter what happens, this team has Designated Player spots to work with and reason to believe the momentum is going to carry over to 2020.
LAFC, of course, are trying to become the best regular-season team in MLS history. A win will do it. Carlos Vela is trying to set the all-time single season goals record. A goal will do it.
Seattle Sounders vs. Minnesota United (MLS LIVE on ESPN+ in the US, on DAZN in Canada)
Here’s a relic from the Loons’ past, via Opta…
Seattle are undefeated against Minnesota (4W-1D), one of four clubs the Sounders have yet to lose to. The 1-1 draw earlier this season was the only time the Sounders haven’t scored multiple goals against the Loons.
Should Minnesota flip the script — those three words sum up their 2019 season — and grab their first-ever win against the Sounders, they’ll be the second seed in the Western Conference. Wild stuff. If it’s a draw and LA don’t win, Seattle will be the second seed. Lots to play for.
Here are the three things I’m most looking forward to in this match…
- 50-50 balls between Cristian Roldan and Ozzie Alonso
- Jordan Morris running into the space vacated by Romain Metanire
- Adrian Heath shouting out MLS dot com should Minnesota win (keep it going, Inchy!)
Houston Dynamo vs. LA Galaxy (MLS LIVE on ESPN+ in the US, on DAZN in Canada)
Should Seattle and Minnesota split the points and the Galaxy win, they’ll take the second seed on the first tiebreaker: wins.
Here’s where I drop some interesting Audi Golden Boot stats, specifically around open play goals vs. penalty kicks. You might be surprised to know Carlos Vela doesn’t lead the league in one of those categories…
- Carlos Vela: 31 goals (9 penalty kicks, missed two) … 22 goals from open play
- Zlatan Ibrahimović: 29 goals (6 penalty kicks, missed one) … 23 goals from open play
- Josef Martinez: 26 goals (5 penalty kicks, missed one) … 21 goals from open play
Zlatan, baby. How does that measure up against previous all-time record holders? Put some respect on Roy Lassiter’s name!
- Lassiter (1996): 24 non-PK goals
- Martinez (2018): 23 non-PK goals
- Ibrahimović (2019): 23 non-PK goals
- Vela (2019): 22 non-PK goals
- Wondolowski (2012): 22 non-PK goals
- BWP (2014): 21 non-PK goals
Draw your own conclusions. A hat-trick for Zlatan and nada for Vela would turn this Golden Boot thing on its head.
Atlanta United vs. New England Revolution (MLS LIVE on ESPN+ in the US, on DAZN in Canada)
Is Josef Martinez a robot? He got carted off the field with tears in his eyes two weeks ago. And then, on Friday morning, Frank De Boer said this…
#atlutd martinez will decide if he starts, according to FdB.— Doug Roberson (@DougRobersonAJC) October 4, 2019
So Martinez is playing? He’s going to sit himself? Josef Martinez? We shall see.
It’s a big game for seeding reasons. Atlanta United want to host the conference semifinals should Philadelphia advance. And if they win — or get the same result as the Union — they’ll host that game. There’s also a better-than-decent chance they’ll run Sunday’s game back against the Revs (2-seed vs. 7-seed) at Mercedes Benz Stadium two weeks later in the First Round.
D.C. United vs. FC Cincinnati (MLS LIVE on ESPN+ in the US, on DAZN in Canada)
No Wayne Rooney, but that’s OK. It means we get to watch Quincy Amarikwa play mind games for 90 minutes. If D.C. United win, they get the fourth seed and the home game that the Red Bulls and Toronto FC are chasing.
I mean this as no disrespect to FC Cincinnati, but if you can’t beat FC Cincinnati at home, you’ve earned that away game in the playoffs. And what a shame it would be for Rooney to miss out on a send-off, no matter what you think of his move to Derby County.
Philadelphia Union vs. NYCFC (MLS LIVE on ESPN+ in the US, on DAZN in Canada)
Vancouver Whitecaps vs. Real Salt Lake (MLS LIVE on ESPN+ in the US, TSN in Canada)
RSL’s result will basically decide how much pressure Seattle, Minnesota and the Galaxy are under in pursuit of a First Round home game. And RSL need a home game. Home record (12-4-1) vs. away record (3-9-4) says it all.
Toronto FC vs. Columbus Crew (MLS LIVE on ESPN+ in the US, TSN in Canada)
Toronto FC (haven’t lost in nine) don’t control their own destiny in regard to a home game, assuming D.C. United don’t choke. They’re almost certainly going to go on the road in the First Round. Same as everyone else, just win and hope the results fall your way. It won’t be easy. The Crew have one loss in their last 10 games and are playing well.
Let’s just say D.C. win, for argument’s sake, and Toronto (47 pts, can finish 5th, 6th or 7th), Red Bulls (48 pts, can finish 5th or 6th) and the Revs (45 pts, can finish 6th or 7th) are jockeying for seeding. I go back and forth about whether it’s better to be fifth seed or sixth or seventh. Remember, the playoff bracket doesn’t re-seed.
On the one hand, going to D.C. in a win-or-go-home scenario would seem to be easier than going to Philly or Atlanta. On the other, you’d rather not be on NYCFC’s side of the bracket and have to go to Yankee Stadium to face the well-rested top seed should you win on the road.
Given the Reds’ talent level, it probably doesn’t matter to them, but there’s a wrinkle. What if TFC finish 6th and the Revs 7th and both pull the upset? It’s one game. Anything can happen. And if that did, Toronto, against the odds, would have a playoff home game. It’s probably galaxy-brain logic, but I gotta think these locker rooms are thinking through every scenario.
Montreal Impact vs. New York Red Bulls (MLS LIVE on ESPN+ in the US, TVAS, TSN in Canada)
Like Toronto FC, the Red Bulls are just hoping D.C. falter. Selfishly, I’d like them to finish in either 4th or 5th with a First Round game against their Atlantic Cup rivals and, potentially, a Conference Semifinal match against their in-city rivals.
Even more importantly to me, Nacho Piatti’s final home game … maybe, we’ll see what the new sporting director decides. Dude was an absolute monster from 2015-2018, four incredible, defender-blending seasons. I hope this isn’t it for him in MLS, but if it is, please give the man a goal or at least a couple 1v1 opportunities to entertain the home fans.
Orlando City vs. Chicago Fire (MLS LIVE on ESPN+ in the US, on DAZN in Canada)
What do you want more? Pride points or a better SuperDraft pick? There’s only one Decision Day game that’s meh, and this is it.