The Major League Soccer regular season is coming to a close. That means the all-important Decision Day is looming, and it will be an exciting one. 14 teams will be battling for either a playoff berth, seeding or the Supporter’s Shield.
A win vs. Chicago on Sunday AND an FC Dallas loss or tie vs. San Jose on Sunday;
A win vs. Chicago AND an FC Dallas win vs. San Jose – WITHOUT FCD winning by a margin of victory six or more goals greater than New York;
A tie vs. Chicago AND an FC Dallas loss or tie.
A loss vs. Chicago AND an FC Dallas loss AND a margin of defeat not six or more goals greater than FCD's.
In other words, it would take a miracle at the level of a Chicago victory and a six-goal domination for FC Dallas to overtake the Red Bulls.
FCD certainly have it better than Orlando City, who need all hell to break loose for them to even sneak into the postseason. They need an 8-0 win on the road in Philadelphia and for the New England Revolution to lose without scoring.
An 8-0 win already is extremely unlikely to happen, but an NYCFC clean sheet against Lee Nguyen and co.? I wouldn’t be buying any tickets if I were an Orlando fan.
The Western Conference playoff race is considerably closer. Portland, Seattle, Sporting KC and San Jose all are in the running for a postseason berth, and there are three slots open. The Timbers, Sounders and SKC can make it simple by gathering a full three points and automatically qualifying, but this is MLS, so that won’t happen.
This leaves the Earthquakes lurking behind the red line, ready pounce on one of the three clubs and switch places. They would need to win at FC Dallas (not an easy task) and have one of three happen:
A Portland loss vs. Colorado on Sunday;
A Seattle loss/tie vs. RSL on Sunday;
An SKC loss or tie vs. LA on Sunday
I wouldn’t bet on a Portland loss, but the Galaxy defeating or even just drawing Sporting KC is entirely plausible. But then again, three points in Frisco is not easy.
Games to watch
FC Dallas vs. San Jose Earthquakes: In one of the few matches in which both teams have something to play for, FC Dallas are clear favorites.
Fabian Castillo and Mauro Diaz have wrecked havoc on opposing defenses all year, and it’s not unlikely that they will do the same against desperate San Jose.
Castillo, who recently earned a call-up to the Colombian national team, is extremely fast, good in tight situations and can shake you out of your shoes as a defender. Diaz is a playmaking number-10 that is the perfect running-mate for Castillo.
As Dallas are without an elite number-9–Blas Perez just doesn’t do the job at this point–San Jose can focus on Diaz and Castillo. Center-back Clarence Goodson is a big, imposing defender that will try and shut down the quick duo with tough tackling.
Fullbacks Cordell Cato and Shaun Francis have their work cut out for them. They both probably know about Castillo’s shredding of right-back Boniek Garcia in Houston a couple weeks ago.
On the plus side for San Jose, their flat 4-4-2 formation has proved successful, with the Quakes winning five of eight games when using it. Chris Wondolowski is given more freedom to break down the defense with well-timed runs in this set-up, so look for him to possibly score at least once.
Los Angeles Galaxy vs. Sporting KC: While Sporting KC have technically not yet clinched a playoff berth, it’s pretty likely that they will get in at this point, making this a battle for Western Conference seeding.
LA have already clinched, and will be looking to grab an automatic spot in the semifinals with a win.
The Galaxy have, arguably, more talent on paper than any squad in MLS. Giovanni dos Santos and Robbie Keane make up one of the top striker combos in the league, and their central midfield is world-class thanks to Steven Gerrard. But in their 5-2 loss to Portland last week, their issues were put on full display.
Timbers’ defensive midfield enforcer Diego Chara shut down Keane and dos Santos, protecting the backline and starting counter-attacks. The lack of pressure defensively from the duo allowed Portland to build from the back and create chances on goal, which was particularly evident in the second-half.
Diego Valeri and Darlington Nagbe consistently shook up LA’s defense, which didn’t have the luxury of a pure number-six like the Timbers did. Gerrard didn’t do his share of tracking back and the backline seemed to always end up in emergency defense; not exactly a good formula for success.
Watch for Benny Feilhaber–who would be in the MVP conversation if not for the scoring prowess of Sebastian Giovinco and Kei Kamara–to try and exploit the lack of defense in center-midfield and play balls through to Dom Dwyer and Graham Zusi.
Columbus Crew vs. DC United: This match will be absolutely crucial in determining Eastern Conference seeding.
Basically, whoever wins this match will gain a place in the Eastern Conference semifinals. A draw would be pointless for both.
DC United always play better with a healthy Fabian Espindola in the lineup, and that’s exactly what they will have on Saturday. He has five goals and seven assists in 16 appearances this season.
As for Columbus, Kei Kamara will be suspended for this match due to yellow card accumulation. That means Jack McInerney will most likely get the start at striker; DC center-backs Bobby Boswell and Steve Birnbaum will surely be pleased with that.
Despite Columbus’ success at home against United historically–they haven’t lost since 2007–advantage goes to DC here. No Kamara, no bye for the Crew.
Then again, you can’t underestimate Ethan Findley.
Players to watch
1. Elias Vasquez- Real Salt Lake
The Guatemalan center-back didn’t play for RSL for two months, but returned to the starting XI last week against FC Dallas.
This week, he faces possibly the biggest challenge a defender can face in this league: Obafemi Martins-Clint Dempsey combo.
How he does is crucial to Real Salt Lake’s success in this game, even if they are already eliminated.
2. Erick Torres- Houston Dynamo
The Houston Dynamo have a number of crucial players running out of a contract this offseason: Starting goalkeeper Tyler Deric, striker and leading scorer Will Bruin, talented and dynamic attacker Giles Barnes and central midfield stalwart Ricardo Clark.
That means forward Cubo Torres, 22, will have to be ready to pick up the scoring load if a key departure weakens the attacking corps. He hasn’t exactly been exceptional since returning from a loan in his native Mexico, but time with his country’s U-23s could help him regain confidence.
3. Sebastian Giovinco- Toronto FC
Giovinco will lead Toronto FC into their final match against the Montreal Impact with an opportunity to secure the Golden Boot over Kei Kamara (although he has already won it by virtue of assists).
The Italian has his side in position to possibly clinch a berth in the Eastern Conference semi-finals with a win over the Impact and a draw between DC United and the Crew.