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MLS Decision Day: Everything you need to know

Here we are. Decision Day. A season potentially summed up in one moment. For the seven teams whose campaigns still hang in the balance, defeat is simply not an option. For spectators, the tension has been turned up to the max as six of the seven sides play each other in their final games of the season. After 90 minutes of intensity, stress will give way to both elation and agony. As we go into Decision Day, let’s break down what every team is playing for.

MLS Decision Day Scenarios 2022

Eastern Conference

1. Philadelphia Union: 64 Points

Opponent: Toronto FC

The Union have been a standout team this season, leading the league in both goals scored and fewest goals conceded. Despite having only the 19th-highest total salary in the league, the Supporters' Shield was very much within reach until last week. A disappointing 4-0 loss to Charlotte FC, combined with LAFC's last-minute winner, means Philadelphia can no longer win the Shield.

With Montréal just two points back, a win against struggling Toronto would guarantee the Union finishes top of the East. Regardless, this year the club’s eyes will be firmly set on lifting MLS Cup for the first time in club history.

2. CF Montréal: 62 Points

Opponent: Inter Miami

While still in the race for top spot in the East, Montréal is the underdog. With at least second place in the East confirmed, a loss or tie for the Union, as well as a win for Montréal, would give Wilfried Nancy’s side a first-round bye in the MLS Cup Playoffs. After finishing 10th and missing the playoffs in 2021, the Canadian side has proven itself to be one of the most consistent teams in MLS this season and could be dangerous in the playoffs.

3. NYCFC: 52 Points

Opponent: Atlanta United

Last season’s MLS Cup champion NYCFC is fresh off a Campeones Cup win over Atlas and a crucial win in the Hudson River Derby, and trails rivals New York Red Bulls by just one point with two games remaining. Despite losing star forward and last season’s top scorer Taty Castellanos, who moved to LaLiga side Girona FC midseason, NYCFC is yet to officially clinch a playoff spot. However, good results against either Orlando or Atlanta would do just that, and outperforming the Red Bulls in the final two games could even see NYCFC earn third spot in the East. 

4. New York Red Bulls: 50 Points

Opponent: Charlotte FC

New York has clinched a playoff spot and is only fighting for seeding. With NYCFC two points above and Inter Miami two points behind, it's possible for Red Bulls to finish anywhere from third to fifth. With Inter Miami and NYCFC playing each other on the final day, the Red Bulls will be hoping for a win against Charlotte and a Miami win for them to finish third in the East.

5. Inter Miami: 48 Points

Opponent: CF Montréal

Inter Miami secured a playoff spot by beating Orlando City on Wednesday and will hope to win against Montréal to give them a chance of jumping the Red Bulls and earning a home playoff game. With the news that forward Gonzalo Higuaín will be retiring at the end of this season, Inter will want to send him off in spectacular fashion.

6. Cincinnati FC: 46 Points

Opponent: DC United

Having never qualified for the MLS Cup Playoffs in its history, FC Cincinnati finds itself in unfamiliar territory this season. Led by 23-year-old forward Brandon Vázquez, Cincinnati could still be caught, but a promising match against DC United, who is currently dead last in the league, should give fans some hope. Cincinnati absolutely has the best chance of advancing as only a loss to DC and a tie between Orlando and Columbus would see them eliminated. In every other scenario, Cincinnati makes the playoffs. 

7. Columbus Crew: 46 Points

Opponent: Orlando City

In one of Decision Day's must-watch games, The Crew advances with either a win or a draw against Orlando on Sunday. Columbus’ 16 draws this season are the most in MLS, but the Crew also has the second-fewest losses, only trailing Philadelphia. A win midweek against Inter Miami would have secured a playoff spot, but a late draw means everything is still to play for.

8. Orlando City FC: 45 Points

Opponent: Columbus Crew

A poor run of form has put Orlando City on the outside of the playoffs looking in. Years of mediocrity have given way thanks to manager Oscar Pareja, and now Orlando looks like a perennial contender, especially after winning the U.S. Open Cup earlier this month. This season will already live long in the memories of fans, but if Pareja's side manages to clinch a playoff spot, it will make this year unforgettable. For that to happen, Orlando needs to beat Columbus, but if Cincinnati loses to DC, a tie would work as well.

9. Charlotte FC: 42 Points

Opponent: New York Red Bulls

A valiant effort from Charlotte sees it fall just short of the playoffs in its debut season as the newest expansion team. A valiant win against Philadelphia gave Charlotte hope but a draw against Columbus sealed the deal. Solid attendance and a strong supporter base make this season a success for the club, and fans will be able to look back at the win against Premier League side Chelsea for years to come.

10. New England Revolution: 41 Points

Opponent: Chicago Fire

A disappointing season by all accounts, especially when compared with last season's Supporter's Shield winning team. There's honestly not much to say. New England has just been painfully mediocre this season. A half-decent defense paired with a sub-par offense means the Revs will be watching the postseason from home, hoping for better next year.

11. Atlanta United: 40 Points

Opponent: NYCFC

Atlanta’s injury-plagued season was just too much to overcome in the race for playoffs. Star forward Josef Martínez had little impact due to off-the-field issues with the team and looks set to leave the club in January unless things can be resolved. His fantastic bicycle-kick goal is proof the talent is still there, but he needs some help unlocking it more frequently.

12. Chicago Fire: 38 Points

Opponent: New England Revolution

Chicago found itself toward the bottom of the table for almost the entire season. The Fire is an extremely young team with promising moments but ultimately not enough to be competitive. Now officially eliminated from playoff contention, the club’s eyes will be on next season as young goalkeeping phenom Gaga Slonina’s loan spell with Chicago ends in three months. The 18-year-old should look to continue in MLS as getting consistent minutes will be crucial to his development at such a young age.

13. Toronto FC: 34 Points

Opponent: Philadelphia Union

Toronto’s mediocrity was painful at times, and despite the high-profile additions of Lorenzo Insigne, Federico Bernardeschi and Domenico Criscito did little to stop Toronto from missing this season’s playoffs. Bob Bradley’s side has a wealth of talent, but putting it all together has proven difficult.

14. DC United: 27 Points

Opponent: FC Cincinnati

Nearing the end of what has been an immensely difficult season from beginning to end, DC United is comfortably the worst team in MLS at the time of writing. With one game left, DC is the only club in the entire league to average less than one point per game. New manager Wayne Rooney will have his work cut out for him as he works to rebuild his team for next year.

Western Conference

1. LAFC: 67 Points

Opponent: Nashville SC

LAFC has the most wins in the league with 21 and even before high-profile additions during the summer, the club was comfortably one of the best sides in the league. Since Gareth Bale and Giorgio Chiellini joined the side, however, results have dipped. Since Aug. 21, LAFC has just ten points from a possible 24. After a last-minute winner against Portland last Sunday, LAFC clinched the Supporters' Shield, but with the amount of talent on its roster, it is truly MLS Cup or bust for LAFC.

2. Austin FC: 55 Points

Opponent: Colorado Rapids

This year's surprise story has without a doubt been Austin FC. Almost doubling its points total from its inaugural season in 2021, Austin is led by MVP candidate Sebastián Driussi, who is averaging a goal every 133 minutes and has scored just under a third of Austin’s goals this season. With second place in the West secured, Austin will already be eying a deep run in the MLS Cup Playoffs.

3. FC Dallas: 50 Points

Opponent: Sporting Kansas City

After losing Ricardo Pepi at the beginning of 2022, Jesús Ferreira came into the FC Dallas side and immediately made an impact. The 21-year-old has scored 18 goals this season and is a massive part of FC Dallas’ fantastic campaign thus far. FC Dallas no longer has a chance of catching Austin FC, and will instead be focusing on staying above LA and Nashville.

4. LA Galaxy: 47 Points

Opponent: Houston Dynamo

The Galaxy are MLS bluebloods and after a two-year absence, they're back in the playoffs. Star men Chicharito and Riqui Puig have contributed and added flair going forward but the squad has struggled for consistency. After clinching a playoff spot, the optimistic goal is better seeding, but really, maintaining their seeding over Nashville is a bit more realistic.

5. Nashville SC: 47 Points

Opponent: LAFC

Last season’s joint-best defense in the league dropped off dramatically, falling to fifth in the same metric for this campaign. However, while the defense has slumped, midfielder Hany Mukhtar has been otherworldy. His 23 goals and seven assists in 32 games are simply stunning and make him a fantastic candidate for MVP this season. Nashville will face a tough LAFC side but if they can better the Galaxy's result, Nashville will have the opportunity to host a playoff game.

6. Portland Timbers: 46 Points

Opponent: Real Salt Lake

This is where the real fun begins. Portland is in a four-team battle for the final two playoff spots and to make things even better, all four teams are playing each other. Portland travels to Utah to take on Real Salt Lake knowing that a win or draw puts the Timbers into the playoffs. Portland entered the international break on a four-game win streak but has struggled since then with a tie and a loss. 

7. Minnesota United: 45 Points

Opponent: Vancouver Whitecaps

Minnesota has enjoyed a good season thus far and has a chance of continuing into the playoffs. Minnesota will host the Vancouver Whitecaps on deadline day and similar to Portland, a win or draw will punch their playoff ticket. The only issue? The Loons are winless since August and have accrued just one point from their last six matches.  

8. Real Salt Lake: 44 Points

Opponent: Portland Timbers

Real Salt Lake has reinvigorated its fanbase this season, and regardless of the playoffs, this season will go down as a success for the club and its culture. That said, Real is still very much in the hunt. RSL needs a win when it hosts Portland on Sunday to advance to the playoffs. While Portland enters in poor form recently, RSL has also not won a game since the beginning of September. This game is the definition of "anything can happen."

9. Vancouver Whitecaps: 43 Points

Opponent: Minnesota United

By some miracle, Vancouver is still alive going into Decision Day. Traveling to face Minnesota, the Whitecaps will also need a win to secure a spot in the playoffs. Vancouver goes into Sunday on a brilliant run of form, having won its last three games, but those have all been in Vancouver. Away from home, the Whitecaps have been abysmal, winning just twice all season. Definitely keep an eye on this match as well.

10. Colorado Rapids: 42 Points

Opponent: Austin FC

Following the Galaxy's 3-2 win against San Jose, Colorado was officially eliminated from playoff contention. Three wins in its last four games provided little consolation for a season that simply had too many low points. Robin Fraser's side had a respectable home record but picked up just one road win all season.

11. Seattle Sounders: 40 Points

Opponent: San Jose Earthquakes

Seattle's run of making the playoffs every year since its debut in MLS officially came to a crashing end in Kansas City last weekend. After Portland's loss to LAFC had opened the door for Seattle to win its final two games and sneak into the playoffs, the Sounders dropped a lackluster performance, losing 1-0.

After becoming the first MLS club to win the Concacaf Champions League earlier this year, Seattle has been plagued by injuries, especially in midfield. The Sounders have the joint-most losses in the Western Conference and only trail Toronto FC for most overall. These poor records on the year eventually doomed the streak, and now Seattle will be hoping to return to the playoffs next year.

12. Sporting Kansas City: 40 Points

Opponent: FC Dallas

Sporting KC has officially been knocked out of playoff contention despite last losing a game on Aug. 13 against Austin FC. A combination of bad offense and bad defense usually results in a side that struggles to win games. Oversimplifications aside, KC surprised many this year after being Western Conference semifinalists last season. This year had its bright spots such as Erik Thommy and William Agada, but the club struggled to remain competitive, apart from the final two months of the season. Too little, too late.

13. Houston Dynamo: 36 Points

Opponent: LA Galaxy

Houston struggled throughout the season, losing 17 matches, only two less than DC United. Star man Héctor Herrera didn’t have the impact the club was hoping he would, and the results told the story. A rebuild will happen in the coming years and, hopefully, Houston will be competing for the playoffs again soon.

14. San Jose Earthquakes: 34 Points

Opponent: Seattle Sounders

A mediocre squad and very little investment in success from ownership is a recipe for failure and it seems like San Jose has the worst batch in the league. At no point this season did San Jose even look like a threat for the playoffs, and if the club wants any hope of turning it around, ownership will need to get involved. Investing in the team will pay off, but inadequacy in the front office breeds poor results on the field. Oh well, maybe next year.

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