Trying to predict what will unfold during a Decision Day presented by AT&T is an unforgiving challenge if there ever was one, but that is precisely the task that I've accepted.
Calling closing day games is never easy, but the degree of difficulty gets bumped up high when it comes to Major League Soccer. There are only two playoff spots still up for grabs, but you also have postseason positioning fights from coast to coast and a host of teams eager to play the spoilers in their final game of the season. Factor in that some coaches will be eager to rest starters ahead of the MLS Cup chase, and you can see how calling Decision Day results is all kinds of tough.
However, I am quite motivated to atone for last week's humbling predictions outcome. It was the round of close, but not quite, as I was one measly goal give or take from hitting five score lines on the nose... and only ended up with one correct prediction from those matches. Ouch. That put me at 4-7 last weekend, which by my standards constitutes taking a proper bath. It also put me a game under break-even over the past two weekends, which means I've got some serious Decision Day work to do.
Pride is on the line here, folks, so let's get to it.
Chicago Fire FC vs. New York City FC
The Fire, whose playoff hopes are dangling by a thread, have repeatedly dropped points by conceding late down the stretch. The visitors, who still have a slim chance at cracking the East's top four, are heating up at the right time; however, they should be concerned about the comedown effect after enjoying a derby rout last weekend. The Windy City boys are probably going to have to score their way out of this jam, and Robert Beric's form gives them a fair shot. Wacky MLS, do your thing: Chicago 3-2.
Columbus Crew SC vs. Atlanta United FC
Just when I had given up all hope of the Five Stripes coming back to life, they did just that last weekend to both win and score multiple goals for the first time in a month. Atlanta kept postseason hope alive with that result, but now must deal with a Crew outfit that might be feeling salty after a harsh midweek loss at 10-man Orlando. I expect the hosts to atone for that sin. A 3-0 Columbus win clinches their top-four slot.
D.C. United vs. Montreal Impact
The Impact hold a playoff spot, but seem intent on losing it. On the other hand, D.C. are making a proper go at chasing down a postseason invite. The capital crew also will get Julian Gressel back (first-child birth boost incoming?), and might even have Paul Arriola in uniform for the first time since preseason.
Because they're in a much better place emotionally, let's say D.C. United 2-0.
Inter Miami CF vs. FC Cincinnati
The Herons will need some help to reach the playoffs, but first things first. All they need to do to give themselves a fighting chance is handle a punchless FC Cincinnati side that has been playing out the string since September. I feel like it's almost Gonzalo Higuain master class o'clock. Cubanos and Key lime pie for everyone, it'll be a 2-0 Inter Miami victory.
New York Red Bulls vs. Toronto FC
We know the banged-up Reds will be fighting for the Supporters' Shield. We know the Red Bulls have a lot less to play for, but also that they'll fight tooth and nail to the final whistle anyway. We also know that they've traditionally owned Toronto FC at home. This is a very tough one to call because we can't be sure if any of Greg Vanney's ailing aces will be fit in time to feature. Add it all up, and I'm guessing we see a tense 1-1 draw.
Orlando City SC vs. Nashville SC
Lions boss Oscar Pareja has been rotating his squad for freshness the past couple weeks and we can expect more of the same with play drivers Nani and Mauricio Pereyra suspended for this one. Both sides have a small chance of rising a station in the table and both tend to play tight matches. Nashville has been about as stingy as it gets down the back stretch, conceding just seven times in their last 11 games. This contest has even more of a 1-1 draw look than the one directly above, so let's go with that.
Philadelphia Union vs. New England Revolution
Much has been said about how many times Philly has blown a chance to secure its first trophy. Squaring off against a dangerous Revs side no one should wish to face in the playoffs won't ease many nerves in town. That being said, the Union have been largely dominant at home, both this season overall and in their lifetime series against New England. What I'm saying is chill the champagne, Chester, because a comprehensive 3-1 Philadelphia victory gets the big job done at long last.
Houston Dynamo vs. Colorado Rapids
The hosts have nothing to fight for but pride, while Colorado did their heavy lifting in midweek in a win over the Timbers. Their main aim on Sunday should be to keep everyone fit. Because of that, we very well may see some regulars rested. And because of that, the pick here is for a 2-1 Houston decision to end their season on a relatively high note.
Los Angeles Football Club vs. Portland Timbers
I'm just going to point out three factors. One: Bob Bradley's boys are finally complete, which is scary for any opponent. Two: They're also probably feeling ornery after a midweek defeat at San Jose. Three, and perhaps most tellingly: In addition to all their injured attackers, Portland must do without the suspended Diego Chara. This all tells me that the Timbers' prospect of finishing atop the West is actually a mirage. A 4-1 LAFC cruise serves as a warning to the rest of the league.
Minnesota United FC vs. FC Dallas
So... who wants a home playoff game the most? That is the question in one of the most meaningful Decision Day games. Both clubs have been riding the form roller coaster for much of the season, but both seem to be getting their acts together just in time for this match (and for what lies beyond). The Loons are a lot more dinged up and must win to wrest fourth place away from the Texans, but also have a significant home-field edge. I went back and forth and back again on this for a good while, but have now landed on a 2-1 Minnesota United triumph. Hurry and run it before I change my mind again.
Real Salt Lake vs. Sporting Kansas City
Sporting KC have been the West's hottest team since the start of October and now just need to beat a down-in-the-dumps RSL side to claim the top seed in their conference bracket. Even though they'll be well-rested, something tells me that's easier said than done. It's been a rough year at Rio Tinto, but now they can play spoiler against a rival that might be missing a couple of key cogs. Frustrated, remorseful attacker Damir Kreilach leads the way in a 2-1 Real Salt Lake win.
Seattle Sounders FC vs. San Jose Earthquakes
Okay, so you see I've already tabbed Portland and Sporting KC for defeats. If that happens, Seattle can smash-and-grab the West with a victory on Sunday. Of course, they haven't really looked like themselves as of late. And the Quakes are on a 6-2-1 run, with multiple goals in each of those victories. Meh, forget all that. It's the Sounders' time of year and they rested several important starters on Wednesday. Get ready for a 3-1 Seattle conference coronation.
Vancouver Whitecaps FC vs. LA Galaxy
The only match of the week with no postseason implications of any kind does have its own mild brand of intrigue. On points per game, the Whitecaps might actually be a playoff team if it weren't for their Cascadia rivals (they scored all of one goal while going 0-5 against Portland and Seattle this season). This Galaxy squad, who finally remembered how to soccer over the past week, will likely play their last game as a group ahead of what promises to be a fair amount of offseason remodeling. I foresee an entertaining 2-2 draw here.