MLS's 23 teams are, bit by bit, having their fates determined for the 2018 entry in the league's record book.
Atlanta United and the New York Red Bulls each won, extending their neck-and-neck Supporters' Shield race another week. The Philadelphia Union, Sporting Kansas City and LAFC all ensured they'll be going to the playoffs with their weekend results. Minnesota United and Toronto FC–yes, Toronto FC!–by contrast, ensured that their seasons will end on Oct. 28.
It's that last one that is the most staggering, so that's where we'll start our look back at the most notable happenings from Week 32 across the league:
I. Down go the champs
It's official: Toronto FC has followed the greatest single season in MLS history by completely missing the playoffs.
Their fate was sealed with a 2-1 loss to the Vancouver Whitecaps, completing a stunning fall from grace. The list of reasons is long: The early-season focus on Concacaf Champions League; the litany of injuries, which either forced stars to miss time or forced others out of their natural positions; a downtick in form for goalkeeper Alex Bono; and so on. Yet with all of that, you still felt like TFC would figure it out. It was too talented not to, and it went out and added the likes of Gregory van der Wiel in the offseason to augment its roster.
“You have to go on runs over the course of a season to give yourself a chance," TFC coach Greg Vanney said following the loss. "We never got that going this year.”
That's quite true, and while this team was perhaps due for a letdown season–when you set the single-season standard, it's hard not to be–it was not expecting this much of one. On paper, it's still one of the best side's in the league, so where does TFC go from here? Apparently, it starts with tending to their superstars, because...
II. Where to, Jozy?
Jozy Altidore, who has been limited to 13 games league games while battling various injuries, made some cryptic comments following Toronto's season-sealing loss:
“I've tried to show every night I stepped on the field since 2015 when I arrived, to give everything I could, all the time," Altidore told MLSSoccer.com. "[I] tried to play for the fans, for my family, for everybody that has followed this club. I've done what I can ... If my future isn't here, it's been nothing but a pleasure. I thank the fans for all the support through the years and all the best in the future.”
Those are not the words of a player who is firmly committed to staying put. Reports swirled during late August of a return to Europe for Altidore, who was reportedly drawing interest from clubs in Serie A and Ligue 1. January will tell if that's where his future lies–and if it's elsewhere, you can be sure TFC will spend the millions it's giving Altidore on another big-name target.
III. Rooney saves D.C.
Wayne Rooney has been worth every penny, at least this first half-season, for D.C. United. His latest: A two-goal performance vs. the Chicago Fire, including a second-half equalizer and a late, match-winning penalty on Sunday.
Nine goals, seven assists in 16 matches and being the catalyst for the club's run from last place towards the playoffs is quite the nice early return on investment. It remains to be seen whether the duration of Rooney's stay in MLS is as prolific, but nobody in the organization is worrying about that now, not with the club two points out of the east's final playoff berth with two games in hand.
IV. Center back back-heel flick
Tim Parker or Timão Parkinho? The deftness of this back-heel flick to fellow center back Aaron Long was just sublime. Bonus points to long for the Bradley Wright-Phillips-esque celebration.
V. This is how you celebrate a USMNT recall
Speaking of U.S. call-ups: Fafa Picault wasn't originally supposed to be part of the USA's roster vs. Colombia and Peru, but injuries to Christian Pulisic and Tyler Adams opened a place for the Philadelphia Union's in-form winger. Naturally, he celebrated with a two-goal showing in a 5-1 rout of Minnesota United that clinched the Union's return to the postseason.
Picault has been in U.S. camp once before: May 2016, under Jurgen Klinsmann, vs. Puerto Rico. Things are just a bit different this time around.
VI. Expansion teams to the playoffs, 20 years apart
In 1998, Bob Bradley coached the first-year Chicago Fire to an MLS Cup and U.S. Open Cup double. Some 20 years later, he's at it again, with LAFC officially having clinched their place in the playoffs. LAFC is the fifth expansion team to achieve the feat and ensured that it happened for a second straight year, following in Atlanta United's steps. Pressure's on, FC Cincinnati.
VII. Wondo inches closer to one record, Quakes near another
After conceding three more goals, the San Jose Earthquakes are dangerously close to setting a record nobody wants to own. They've already tied the Colorado Rapids' 1998 record of 69 goals conceded, with two games to spare, and will break it barring two unlikely clean sheets to end the season (if it makes them feel any better, Orlando City has allowed 68 and has four games left to play, so they're not going down alone).
To salvage their season, they've turned to–who else?–Chris Wondolowski, who got within one of Landon Donovan's all-time mark of 145 regular-season goals, though he had to come off the bench to do so. With two games–and two goals–to go to set the mark, you'd hope Wondo gets the start going forward.
VIII. Blanco to the back post
Portland's Sebastian Blanco had so much fun scoring once with a far-post finish, he went ahead and did it again. Three minutes later.
The 4-1 win for Portland at Real Salt Lake was huge for the Timbers, who moved six points clear of the playoff line and can all but start contemplating postseason possibilities. As of now, they're in position to host a wildcard game against the rival Seattle Sounders, but Seattle's two games in hand means Portland can't take anything for granted. A bye is also technically in reach, but given that Sporting Kansas City and LAFC both have two more points and a game in hand, it means Portland's margin for error the rest of the way does not exist.
XI. Atlanta's win comes at a cost
Atlanta United should be celebrating its latest win, which came in part due to the work of 16-year-old George Bello, who became the sixth-youngest scorer in league history with the opener against the New England Revolution in a 2-1 win.
But the most important takeaway from the match is that Atlanta star Miguel Almiron is likely to miss the rest of the regular season after coming off with an apparent left leg injury. As valuable as Josef Martinez has been (and in a few weeks' time we'll surely find out that the single-season record-holder for goals will be deemed most valuable*), Almiron makes everything happen for Atlanta with his playmaking abilities. His 12 goals and 14 assists aren't easily replaceable, though that's something AUFC may have to confront this offseason, with rumors aplenty regarding a potential move to Europe. But they weren't counting on needing to replace his productivity in October and November.
There's lots swirling about Almiron's future and that of manager Tata Martino, and it appears that one major wildcard looming over Atlanta's forthcoming postseason run will be its own internal issues.
X. Nobody thought this was a good penalty call
Can a coach get fined for criticizing the officiating for another team's game? Mike Petke is sure going to find out.
Of course, the RSL manager would prefer to see the LA Galaxy continue to drop points, with sixth place in the west a tight three-team race, and his side a point clear with a couple games to play. Instead, this controversial penalty called on Matt Besler for a supposed foul on Ola Kamara allowed the Galaxy to strike first in an eventual 1-1 draw. And, no, Besler didn't think it was the right call, either.
XI. Zlatan has the last word
Don't poke the Zlatan: A three-act play:
With the goal, Ibrahimovic now has six in his last six games, with the Galaxy in full-on must-win mode. They're riding the lion's back to a potential postseason berth.