As MLS Decision Day nears, playoff spots and the Supporters' Shield are still on the line, writes Liviu Bird in his Week 33 Power Rankings.
Playoff spots in each conference and the Supporters' Shield remain up for grabs after a wild penultimate week in the 2015 Major League Soccer regular season. Following the international break, the league resumed with a full schedule and no shortage of teams jumping places with interesting results.
It started on Wednesday, where the legend of Sebastian Giovinco continued to grow almost as soon as the Italian stepped off the plane from Euro qualifiers. On the same day, FC Dallas clinched first place in the West with another solid performance, and the Portland Timbers topped Real Salt Lake to set themselves up for a weekend showdown with the LA Galaxy.
A relatively calm Friday and Saturday gave way to a bonkers day on Sunday, in which three of the eight teams involved scored four or more goals. It’s no surprise that a goalscoring record was broken on the crazy day, but what was at least a little surprising was Portland’s second win of the week, a five-goal, comeback victory over LA that announced the Timbers’ intentions for the postseason quite clearly.
Here are a few thoughts ahead of MLS Decision Day:
Timbers aren’t to be taken lightly
|New York Red Bulls||FC Dallas|
|D.C. United||LA Galaxy|
|Columbus Crew||Vancouver Whitecaps|
Portland hasn’t gotten two results more important this season than those it managed this week. It was the sixth time the Timbers have played consecutive games on the road, but only the first that they won both.
Caleb Porter likes to say that on their day, the Timbers can beat anybody, and they showed it by putting up five goals at StubHub Center against the defending champion with all its stars on the field. It was the first time in the MLS era that the Timbers defeated LA in California, and a week like this one should give Portland some belief heading into the postseason.
The team showed great character coming back from a goal down, although the Timbers came very close to scoring a couple times in the first half and only trailed thanks to a Robbie Keane wonder strike. It’s not certain yet that they will qualify for the playoffs–a series of results could put Portland on the outside looking in still–but it’s hard to bet against a home win against the Colorado Rapids after the week the Timbers have had.
And after that? Well, they have indeed shown that they can beat anybody.
Red Bulls come out of their shell again
It’s been a few weeks since the Red Bulls really took a team to task with their attack—the last time was probably in two 3-0 wins over Toronto and D.C. United in August—but that’s exactly what they did to the Philadelphia Union on Sunday. Mike Grella started it after just seven seconds, breaking the record for fastest MLS goal after a comedy of defensive errors, and it continued from there.
The Red Bulls scored on three of their first four shots and added another before halftime to bury their opponent quickly. The attack crackled all day, finishing with 63% possession and 13 shots, and the Red Bulls led nearly every statistical category.
They and Dallas can’t be caught at the top of their conferences, but they’re dead even in the Supporters’ Shield race with the same record ahead of the final day of the season. The Red Bulls have a six-goal advantage in goal difference, though, and face an easier opponent in Chicago than Dallas faces at home against the San Jose Earthquakes. For the second time in three seasons, the Supporters' Shield could find its way to Red Bull Arena, which would be quite the accomplishment after all of the club's offseason turmoil.
Toronto FC finally breaks the streak
After a nine-year wait, Toronto FC is in the playoffs. Likely MVP award winner Giovinco made sure of it with his crazy run through the New York Red Bulls defense on Wednesday in what should be a Goal of the Year candidate.
Giovinco has been brilliant this year, and he continued that after going straight to the stadium off a trans-Atlantic flight following his appearances for Italy during the international window and playing the final 19 minutes. Rarely has MLS seen a foreign Designated Player as revved up about and committed to his new team as Giovinco, and it’s paid off with his performances this year. He now has 22 goals and 15 assists in his debut season.
On the other end of the spectrum, a rough week for Jozy Altidore continued as he was sent off from the bench for apparently berating an official. At least TFC didn’t need a win against the Columbus Crew on Saturday, a game it ended up losing, and Altidore will be back for the final match of the season next week and the playoffs.
Decision Day approaches
The league introduced a new concept for the final day of the season this year that mirrors many competitions around the world: every match in each conference will kick off at the same time on Sunday. The Eastern Conference is up first, at 5 p.m. ET, while the Western Conference matchups follow at 7. The national TV schedule will be flexible, allowing broadcasters to choose the most meaningful games to showcase.
A couple choices in each conference stand out above the rest: first, Montreal and Toronto go head-to-head for a higher playoff seed, as do Columbus and D.C., all looking to join the Red Bulls with a first-round bye. In the West, the Earthquakes are still battling for the final playoff spot, but even teams as high as fourth-placed Portland aren’t assured a place yet.
This tweak in scheduling, which MLS has dubbed “Decision Day,” should provide some excitement leading into the playoffs. It also helps showcase the league’s favorite selling point, its parity, in that plenty of permutations are still in play even after each team has played 33 games this year.
Week 33 Best XI
GOALKEEPER: Steve Clark (Columbus Crew)
DEFENDERS: Jorge Villafaña (Portland Timbers), Kwame Watson-Siriboe (New York City FC), Michael Parkhurst (Columbus Crew), Kemar Lawrence (New York Red Bulls)
MIDFIELDERS: Mike Grella (New York Red Bulls), Mauro Díaz (FC Dallas), Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers)
FORWARDS: Cyle Larin (Orlando City SC), Robbie Keane (LA Galaxy), Fanendo Adi (Portland Timbers)
It was a poor start to the week, but the Red Bulls responded by scoring three goals in the first 17 minutes and four in the first half on the way to a romp over Philadelphia.
After clinching first place in the West with a two-win week, FC Dallas can set its eyes on winning its first Supporters’ Shield. A win or tie against San Jose would do it, if the Red Bulls, who hold an edge of six in goal differential, fall to Chicago.
The Reds locked up their first playoff spot in franchise history, but a loss to the Crew in the second game of the week will make it tougher to earn a first-round bye in the postseason.
Kei Kamara won’t break the single-season goalscoring record, but his battle for the MLS Golden Boot with Sebastian Giovinco has certainly been an entertaining one. Both have 22 goals entering the final week, with Giovinco currently having the edge on the assist tiebreaker.
The Galaxy lost for just the second time at home this season as they couldn’t stem the tide of a Timbers attacking outburst in the second half, conceding five goals after the hour mark. Giovani dos Santos made his return from injury, but it didn't provide the spark the Galaxy would've wanted.
The Impact are in the playoffs after firing Frank Klopas at the end of August, which coincided with Didier Drogba joining the team. Since then, the team has gone 6-3-1, and Drogba has nine goals.
Despite an unbeaten streak of seven games, Seattle fell to fifth in the West after Portland’s win as the Sounders couldn’t pull out three points, making the final game against RSL a must-win not just for playoff seeding purposes–the right set of circumstances could put the Sounders outside the playoffs as well.
A tweak of the system from Caleb Porter brought out the best in Darlington Nagbe against RSL, where he missed connecting only three of his passes, and the Timbers got a vital win before also beating LA on the weekend.
New England is set to clinch its playoff spot on the final day even with a loss against NYCFC, provided Orlando City does not make up a current eight-goal difference between the teams.
The Lions stayed alive for another week, fighting back from one goal down at halftime to win their fifth game in a row through Cyle Larin’s second-half brace. His rookie scoring record now stands at 17 goals.
The Whitecaps have faded in the final weeks of the season, riding a five-game winless streak and 3-5-2 record in their last 10 games into the last match of the season.
The longest active playoff streak in MLS is over as RSL couldn’t muster even a goal in two vital games at home this week and lost 1-0 in both.
D.C. is trying to right its ship in time for the playoffs, winning twice in a row after that ugly six-game winless run; a last-day win at Columbus would send United into the playoffs in style.
SKC missed its opportunity to clinch a playoff spot with a loss to San Jose, keeping the U.S. Open Cup champs one point ahead of the seventh-placed Earthquakes. Sporting KC has two games in the final week with which to secure its berth.
The Earthquakes remain in the hunt for a playoff place after a narrow, hard-fought win over Sporting KC on Friday behind another good performance from Anibal Godoy.
It’s been an inconsistent expansion year for NYCFC on and off the field, and Friday’s loss to Orlando was the perfect personification: up a goal, NYCFC couldn’t close out the game and ended up losing.
Owen Coyle’s men had playoff hopes until the last 10 minutes against Seattle, when Obafemi Martins’ goal officially eliminated a Dynamo team that had stifled its opponent’s dangerous attack to that point.
The first team officially eliminated in the West, Colorado had a week off before two games to close out the season on the road against Kansas City and Portland, both of which need every point possible. The Rapids might not be in the playoffs, but they can still have a big say in who is.
With nothing left to play for, the Fire got dominated by a D.C. team looking to regain its form, and Chicago hardly put up a fight in doing so.
The Union’s day was over soon after it began, as they conceded four goals in the first half and held less than 40% possession in a game which they looked like they didn’t really want to play.