- The MLS regular season is down to its final day. Here's what's up for grabs on Decision Day and what was already decided on the penultimate weekend of the 2017 campaign.
As it turns out, only two major things will be decided on MLS Decision Day: Playoff seeding and one remaining spot in the postseason.
MLS Week 33 saw an abundance of playoff spots get claimed, with the Eastern Conference's six teams all set–though not their order–and only one spot remaining up for grabs in the Western Conference. Three clubs still have their hat in the ring, while two playoff outsiders–the LA Galaxy and Minnesota United–will look to play spoiler on the final day of the season.
All of that was decided as the league played its full slate across two time windows on Sunday, but all 22 teams will be in action simultaneously this coming Sunday at 4 p.m. ET, where playoff matchups will finally be able to be determined, RFK Stadium will close its doors and remaining unknowns will have their mysteries solved.
Until then, here is the best of the weekend that was in MLS:
I. How the West ('s sixth place) will be won
Three teams will fight for the sixth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference on Decision Day, a spot currently held by the San Jose Earthquakes. Hot on their trail are FC Dallas and Real Salt Lake. All three will be at home for their finales, and thanks to the quirks of the MLS rule book, goal differential is not the first tiebreaker. That's big for San Jose, considering its -22 GD is tied for worst in the West. Its 12 wins are two more than FC Dallas, so even though they're tied on points, San Jose is guaranteed a playoff berth with a win over Minnesota. Any slip-up, though, and it'll be a dose of Decision Day chaos. FCD (vs. LA, coming off a horrible 4-0 loss to Seattle) and RSL (vs. Sporting Kansas City coming off a 1-0 loss to rival Colorado) are banking on it.
II. Red Bulls wrap up East's last place
Sixth in the East is going to the New York Red Bulls, after Jesse Marsch's side stemmed the tide of its last-season swoon and followed last weekend's win over Vancouver by holding off Atlanta United for a 0-0 draw and clinching the final spot and a road game in the one-game wildcard round.
That means first and sixth are settled in the East, but second through fifth are wholly up for grabs. With a first-round bye at stake, NYCFC vs. Columbus on Sunday is the game to watch.
Thinking out loud (in print). MLS must get better, and lots of ppl have lots of good suggestions that’ll take lots of will, time, money >>— 📭 (@BrianStraus) October 15, 2017
But there's one big change MLS could make NOW that's essentially cost free. Would make games more meaningful, put more pressure on clubs >>— 📭 (@BrianStraus) October 15, 2017
Return to 8 playoff teams next season. Top 4 from each conf, even after expansion. Top 4 of 11, top 4 of 14+, whatever. Four from each >>— 📭 (@BrianStraus) October 15, 2017
Would make more games meaningful at time, not hindsight (remember point we dropped in May? Oof). Demands qual and perf for more of season >>— 📭 (@BrianStraus) October 15, 2017
Gross glut of playoff spots rewards clubs for mediocre years. Force this level of risk on owners, GMs, fans, etc. Test their response >>— 📭 (@BrianStraus) October 15, 2017
In US system, playoff qualif often line between success/failure. Raise that bar. See what happens. EASY, immediate change that could help >>— 📭 (@BrianStraus) October 15, 2017
8 teams, return to best-of-3. Play to win, not for aggreg. Best of 3 QF/SF, then MLS Cup final. Think it would make for a better comp. END.— 📭 (@BrianStraus) October 15, 2017
IV. Toronto FC matches record
TFC reached the 68-point plateau after a 1-0 win over rival Montreal, with Jozy Altidore moving on from the U.S. men's national team's colossal World Cup qualifying failure by scoring early at BMO Field (cue the "Where was this Tuesday night in Trinidad?!" calls).
The three-point haul brought TFC level with the 1998 LA Galaxy's record mark and has Toronto in position to set a new standard for MLS with a win or draw in its finale at Atlanta. Regardless, Toronto will be the top seed in the East, and it'll host MLS Cup again, provided it gets there. With Altidore and Michael Bradley eager to get over the disappointment of missing the World Cup, the American stars will surely be even more motivated than usual to lift more silverware with their club. In the meantime, they were able to lift the Supporters' Shield.
VI. What an absolutely perfect save
Take a bow, Stefan Marinovic!
VII. More goalkeeping heroics
Tyler Deric preserved the Houston Dynamo's fourth point off Sporting KC in a matter of five days with this fine day at the office.
VIII. This is probably what the Galaxy had envisioned
It's way too little too late for the LA Galaxy, but Romain Alessandrini, Jermaine Jones, Jonathan Dos Santos and Giovani Dos Santos combining for three goals in a dominating 3-0 win over Minnesota United was probably more along the lines of what Chris Klein & Co. had hoped for with its first post-Bruce Arena season, as opposed to, you know, what's actually transpired since March.
IX. Meet your likely Golden Boot winner
There's still one game to go for all, but the Chicago Fire's Nemanja Nikolic separated himself from the pack with a hat trick on Sunday, and he leads the Golden Boot race by three goals. It was Nikolic's race to win based on his red-hot start to his first Fire season, but a nine-game midseason scoring drought threatened his case. He's come on late, though, with eight goals in his last six games, to retake control.
Is the MLS single-season record in his sights? Another hat trick in the Fire's finale would pull him level with Roy Lassiter, Chris Wondolowski and Bradley Wright-Phillips for the league's top mark of 27. Four goals would set the new standard, though that may be asking a lot of him at Houston, considering his Sunday hat trick was his first of the season.
XI. Kaka bids farewell to Orlando
There's plenty one can say about Kaka's time with Orlando City. He was a heck of a marquee signing for the club in its expansion year, and he was a great ambassador for the team, city and league. He was also the highest-paid player in the league for the duration of his time in Orlando, and the club has 0 playoff appearances to show for spending north of $7 million a year. Regardless, emotions were high as he played his final home game for Orlando City days after announcing he would not be signing a new deal with the club. His contract expires at the end of the season, and whether he'll be playing elsewhere in MLS or the world or retiring, he was given a hero's sendoff.
It is still crazy to think that Kaka is the last player not named Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo to win the Ballon d'Or (2007).