MLS Decision Day: FC Dallas takes Supporters' Shield, playoff field set

Sunday October 23rd, 2016

Goals were plentiful. Teams already eliminated still put up a fight. And at the end of 900 simultaneous minutes of soccer in 10 venues across the U.S. and Canada, MLS’s 21st regular season concluded with a wounded FC Dallas squad claiming the second piece of an historic treble and the reigning champions left out in the cold.

Dubbed “Decision Day” by MLS, Sunday’s glut of games started fast as the Seattle Sounders and Real Salt Lake traded goals in the first four minutes of the only match featuring two clubs with something significant at stake. Both traditional Western Conference powers needed a win to ensure playoff soccer. The Sounders, who surged from the cellar under interim coach Brian Schmetzer, secured the necessary three points. But RSL and Sporting Kansas City also moved on thanks to the Portland Timbers’ blowout loss in Vancouver. The setback ensured that Portland, the 2015 MLS champion, finished 2016 without a road win and out of the playoffs.

• SCOREBOARD: All the results from MLS Decision Day

Toward the top of the standings, the New York Red Bulls—unbeaten in 16 league games—coasted to first in the Eastern Conference for the third time in four seasons. And Bradley Wright-Phillips secured the league’s golden boot trophy with his 24th goal of the campaign in a win over Philadelphia.

Up I-95, New York City FC held second place and the second bye, lost it to Toronto FC then got it back with a late defeat of Columbus. Across the country in L.A., Dallas won the Supporters' Shield for the first time after tying the Galaxy. Now FCD will attempt to add the MLS Cup to its trophy haul (it claimed the U.S. Open Cup last month) with home-field advantage but without injured playmaker Mauro Díaz, who was lost to an Achilles injury suffered last weekend.

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There’s not much time for analysis or review. It took MLS eight months to eliminate just eight teams. Four more will see their campaigns end this week and then an additional four will say goodbye Nov. 6. That crunch of season-defining matches prompted several coaches to rest players Sunday, as they apparently decided that a mid-week road trip was preferable to fielding a tired lineup in a one-and-done setting. Home teams have won 10 of the previous 12 knockout-round games.

While the top two finishers in each conference are off until next weekend (three of those four slots were secure before Sunday), the remaining eight playoff qualifiers meet in single-elimination knockout round games Wednesday or Thursday.

Here’s a quick primer on the path to the Dec. 10 MLS Cup final in the East and West.


Bye to home-and-home conference semifinals

No. 1 New York Red Bulls (16-9-9), No. 2 New York City FC (15-10-9)

Knockout Round

No. 6 Philadelphia Union (11-14-9) at No. 3 Toronto FC (14-9-11) | Wednesday, 7:30 p.m. ET (ESPN2, UniMas)

TFC missed out on the bye by a point but at least will enter the postseason having ended its five-game winless streak and with Sebastian Giovinco healthy—he had an assist and a goal on a penalty kick Sunday after missing the previous five matches. In its 10th MLS season, Toronto will host a playoff game for the first time. The Union will limp to BMO Field on a 0-5-2 slide, but might take some confidence from the 1-1 draw it earned in Toronto last month.

No. 5 Montreal Impact (11-11-12) at No. 4 D.C. United (11-10-13) | Thursday, 7:30 p.m. ET (UniMas)

Both teams gambled Sunday and rested important starters. Both lost. And that means United, which was among the most in-form teams in MLS heading into the finale, sort of won. It will welcome Montreal to RFK Stadium. D.C.’s key players, from Luciano Acosta and Patrick Mullins to Steve Birnbaum and Bobby Boswell, will be rested. Will Didier Drogba, who hasn’t played since September 28, be available for Montreal? Both games between the two this year ended 1-1 and featured late Impact equalizers.


Bye to home-and-home conference semifinals

No. 1 FC Dallas (17-8-9), No. 2 Colorado Rapids (15-6-13)

Knockout Round

No. 6 Real Salt Lake (12-12-10) at No. 3 LA Galaxy (12-6-16) | Wednesday, 10:30 p.m. ET (UniMas)

There’s a ton of playoff history between these two, from the 2009 MLS Cup final won by RSL to the 2011 conference decider won by LA. This will be their fifth postseason meeting overall. LA should be favored this time. The Galaxy had nothing to play for Sunday and will be rested. They’re 10-1 in home playoff matches over the past five seasons. RSL lost at Seattle Sunday and enters the playoffs in a 0-4-3 funk.

No. 5 Sporting Kansas City (13-13-8) at No. 4 Seattle Sounders (14-14-6) | Thursday, 10 p.m. ET (FS1, UniMas)

Seattle is as dangerous as a .500 team can be. Since Schmetzer took over and Uruguayan playmaker Nicolás Lodeiro arrived from Boca Juniors (it happened the same day at the end of July), the Sounders are 8-2-4. That’s the second-best record in MLS in that span. Sporting lost just one of its final six games. They don’t have much scoring punch beyond Dom Dwyer (16 goals), but still had enough to Seattle twice this year by an aggregate 4-0.

Here's what else stood out from Decision Day:

FC Dallas wins MLS Supporters' Shield, historic treble in reach

Sunday October 23rd, 2016

For the first time in its 21-year history, FC Dallas has won MLS’s Supporters’ Shield.

Dallas clinched the regular season crown Sunday with a 0-0 draw in Los Angeles against the Galaxy. The result put Dallas on 60 points, and was enough to hold off the Colorado Rapids, who tied the Houston Dynamo 1-1 at home.

It’s the first MLS trophy in the history of the club, which was one of the league’s 10 charter members in 1996.

The Supporters’ Shield title also puts Dallas three playoff rounds away from a historic treble. No club has ever won the U.S. Open Cup, Supporters’ Shield and MLS Cup in the same season. Dallas won the Open Cup back in September with a robust 4-2 victory over the New England Revolution. The final stage, the gauntlet that is the MLS playoffs, will begin next Sunday for the West’s top seed. Should FC Dallas reach MLS Cup, it would host the final by virtue of having the best record.

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Dallas was playing catch-up for the Shield heading into the penultimate weekend of the season. But Colorado’s 1-0 loss at Portland last Sunday left the window ajar, and Dallas snuck through. With Seattle leading 1-0 in Frisco in the 79th minute, Maxi Urruti pounced on a goal-mouth scramble to equalize. Veteran striker Carlos Ruiz, who signed with Dallas in mid-September, then stole three points with an 89th-minute winner.

The final day was just as tense, even if not as dramatic. Heading into the day on 59 points, Dallas manager Oscar Pareja knew that a loss in L.A. and a Colorado win would cede the Shield to his former club.

There was relief for Dallas midway through the first half of the simultaneous games when Dynamo winger Andrew Wenger ghosted in at the back post to tap in a rebound and put the Rapids behind.

But Colorado’s Shkelzen Gashi equalized in the 67th minute, making Dallas’s table-topping place more tenuous. One goal in each game could have swung things towards the Rapids. Dallas, however, held on for the 0-0 draw, and the Rapids couldn’t find a second, leaving Dallas to celebrate in L.A.

Dallas’ treble hopes were prematurely dampened a week ago, however, when top playmaker Mauro Diaz ruptured his Achilles late on in the win over Seattle.

Another key member of the Supporters’ Shield-winning squad, Fabian Castillo, departed for Trabzonspor in Turkey in August, on loan at least until January.

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This is a deep Dallas team, though, and one that has been building towards this year’s success for some time. It finished tied atop last year’s joint table, but lost out on the Shield on goal differential to the New York Red Bulls (it's the first MLS team to post consecutive 60-point seasons). It then fell in thrilling fashion in the conference finals to Portland.

Colorado’s run at history of its own this season fell just short. The Rapids finished at the bottom of the Western Conference last year on 37 points. Since MLS expanded beyond 12 teams, no team had ever won the Supporters’ Shield a year after finishing last in its respective conference. That streak lives on.

Dallas’s title leaves Colorado and New England as the only two MLS originals to have never won a Supporters' Shield.

Both Dallas and Colorado clinched byes in the playoffs, which begin with one-off knockout round games Wednesday and Thursday. 

Bradley Wright-Phillips fends off David Villa for MLS Golden Boot

Sunday October 23rd, 2016

For the second time in three years, Bradley Wright-Phillips has won MLS’s Golden Boot.

The prolific 31-year-old New York Red Bulls striker clinched the honor Sunday, the final day of the regular season, with a clever 26th-minute goal against the Philadelphia Union that took his 2016 league tally to 24.

Wright-Phillips came into the day leading New York City FC’s David Villa 23 goals to 22 at the top of MLS’s scoring charts. Villa scored late in NYCFC’s 4-1 win over Columbus Crew SC, but Wright-Phillips was able to claim the award by the one-goal margin.

It’s Wright-Phillips’ second Golden Boot since coming to the Red Bulls from Charlton Athletic in July of 2013. He won his first with an MLS record-tying 27 goals in 2014, his first full year in the league.

Wright-Phillips becomes the fifth player in MLS’s 21-year history to lead the league in goals on more than one occasion. Preki was the first to do so with the Kansas City Wizards in 1997 and 2003. Taylor Twellman was the second with the New England Revolution in 2002 and 2005. Jeff Cunningham (2006 and 2009) and Chris Wondolowski (2010 and 2012) also won the Golden Boot twice.

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Wright-Phillips took this year’s crown despite not converting a single penalty kick to supplement his tally. The Red Bulls’ striker missed his only attempt from the spot, on April 10 against Sporting Kansas City.

That penalty miss was emblematic of Wright-Phillips’ early season shortcomings. He failed to find the back of the net through the season’s first seven games as the Red Bulls stumbled to six defeats. But he bagged a second-half brace in a 3-2 win over Orlando City in April to open his account. He then scored five over an eight-day stretch in May—two in a 7-0 derby victory over NYCFC at Yankee Stadium, and a hat trick the following weekend against Toronto.

Wright-Phillips and Villa matched each other goal for goal over the season’s final weeks. Villa tallied twice each in late-September wins over Chicago and Houston. The Spaniard then brought his total to 22 with a consolation goal from the spot in a 3-1 loss at D.C. United. But Wright-Phillips’ two second-half strikes against Columbus propelled him into the lead with 23 heading into Decision Day.

PODCAST: David Villa on his future with NYCFC ... and Spain?

Villa certainly had his chances to pull even with Wright-Phillips. He created a goal for Steven Mendoza Sunday to put NYCFC up 1-0 at halftime and was also desperately unlucky to not make the race a little more interesting, hitting both posts with this effort:

Wright-Phillips has been an integral part of a Red Bulls team that beat the Union 2-0 Sunday and topped the Eastern Conference on 57 points. They’ll open the playoffs next Sunday in the conference semifinals, where Wright-Phillips will look to add to his record of six goals in 10 playoff appearances.

In three-and-a-half years, Bradley, the son of Arsenal legend Ian Wright and younger brother of former England international Shaun Wright-Phillips, has now scored a total of 75 goals in 117 MLS appearances.

Defending MLS Cup champion Portland Timbers miss playoffs

Sunday October 23rd, 2016

The Portland Timbers entered the 2016 with championship swagger, but they bow out of the season disappointingly early after failing to make the playoffs, unable to defend their crown.

The Timbers fell 4-1 to the Vancouver Whitecaps on MLS Decision Day, finishing seventh in the Western Conference and out of the postseason picture. They were pipped by the Seattle Sounders, Real Salt Lake and Sporting Kansas City to the final three spots in the West, joining FC Dallas, the Colorado Rapids and LA Galaxy on that half of the playoff bracket.

Perhaps no play was more emblematic of the team's woes than Lucas Melano's failure to redirect a ball into the goal at the doorstep, somehow having it deflect off his chest and go wayward. He was taken off by manager Caleb Porter at halftime.

Giles Barnes scored twice in the opening half, while Pedro Morales made it 3-0 with a fantastic finish from long range to put the final nail in the coffin. Shortly after, Nicolas Mezquida made it 4-0. 

2015 MLS Cup MVP Diego Valeri scored a consolation penalty kick in the second half to get the Timbers on the board.

With Portland and Columbus Crew SC both missing the postseason, it marks the first time in league history that the two reigning finalists do not play beyond the regular season.

Portland finished 12-14-8, and its road woes were ultimately the club's undoing. The loss at BC Place Sunday dropped the Timbers to a staggering 0-11-6 away from Providence Park. Last season, Portland won seven games away from home.

Sporting KC veteran, MLS great Brad Davis announces his retirement

Sunday October 23rd, 2016

Sporting Kansas City veteran midfielder Brad Davis announced he'll be retiring at the end of the season. Fortunately for Davis, Sunday is not that day, as Sporting KC's 2-0 win over the San Jose Earthquakes helped the club punch its playoff ticket.

Davis, 34, is third all-time in assists in MLS history with 123, and he has 57 goals to accompany them over time spent with the New York/New Jersey MetroStars, Dallas Burn, San Jose Earthquakes, Houston Dynamo and Sporting KC. 

"Brad was one of the most naturally gifted soccer players I have ever been around," current San Jose Earthquakes head coach Dominic Kinnear, who coached Davis in San Jose and Houston from 2005-2014, said in a statement to Sporting KC. "He has had a great career and I wish him the best of luck. It was a pleasure to coach him for as many years as I did, and I felt lucky to have him on the field helping our team."

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Added Sporting KC manager Peter Vermes: "Brad has been a tremendous professional throughout his career and during his time with us. This was a very difficult decision for him, but I have the ultimate respect for Brad because he wanted to leave the game being remembered for playing at a very high level. My only disappointment is that Sporting KC didn't get him earlier in his career, because he would have been a great asset for this club–just as he was this year. It's sad to see him go, but at the same time I'm very happy for everything he has accomplished."

A six-time MLS All-Star and two-time MLS Cup champion, Davis was a runner-up for MLS MVP in 2011. He had seven seasons of double-digit assists and was a set-piece specialist with his precise left foot.

Davis was on the USA's 2014 World Cup roster and has four assists in 17 caps for the U.S. national team.

As the fifth seed in the West, Sporting KC will play on the road at Seattle in a one-game playoff to determine which one will reach the conference semifinals this week.

Watch: FC Dallas sprays injured Mauro Diaz with Champagne at his house

Monday October 24th, 2016

FC Dallas captured its first MLS Supporters' Shield Sunday, cementing a second consecutive 60-point season with a 0-0 draw with the LA Galaxy.

FCD managed to do so without the injured Mauro Diaz, the star playmaker who will be on the shelf for a while after undergoing surgery for a torn Achilles tendon. Diaz was instrumental in the club's success this season, including a masterful performance in the U.S. Open Cup final, and whether FC Dallas can complete a historic and unprecedented domestic treble without him will be one of the big storylines of the postseason.

The club didn't want him to be left out of the celebrations on Sunday, though. Upon returning home from California, FC Dallas went to Diaz's house, where he came out on crutches–and was promptly greeted with the Champagne shower he missed at StubHub Center.

FC Dallas awaits its first playoff opponent, and will face either the Seattle Sounders, Sporting Kansas City or Real Salt Lake in the Western Conference semifinals. The one with the worst regular-season record still standing after the midweek single-game elimination playoff matches will determine that.

Should FC Dallas reach MLS Cup, it would host the final by virtue of having the best record in the league.

Watch: Kei Kamara gets a yellow card for twerking

Monday October 24th, 2016

Kei Kamara had a little bit of fun during the New England Revolution's season, which ended with a morale-lifting 3-0 win over the Montreal Impact. The Revolution missed out on the postseason on a goal differential tiebreaker after finishing with the same number of points and wins as the sixth-place Philadelphia Union.

In trying to end a tumultuous year–one in which he was traded from Columbus Crew SC to New England after a spat with Federico Higuain–on a lighter note, Kamara made like Pittsburgh Steelers star Antonio Brown and twerked in celebration after scoring the final goal of the game. He was promptly booked by the referee as a result.

It could be worse for Kamara. Brown was fined $9,115 for his twerking celebration. The MLS league office has a bit more leeway in the fun department than the NFL.

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