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It's crunchtime as Major League Soccer gears up for the playoffs

Sunday 28th October 2018
The MLS Cup won't be contested in Toronto this year. The holders were fell on hard times early in 2018 and never recovered.
The MLS Cup won't be contested in Toronto this year. The holders were fell on hard times early in 2018 and never recovered.

European leagues just entered the quarter-turn in their campaigns. MLS, on the other hand, prepares for the final week in its regular season. When operating a sporting competition in North America, the term ‘regular’ is a necessary addition to stress the minor importance of the 34-game campaign.

The Premier League and most other competitions on this planet, if not the entire galaxy, play a balanced round-robin schedule in which each team plays the other home and away to fairly and equitably decide a champion. Playoffs are not necessary. Yanks and Canucks play whomever they want then say the games don’t really matter. Don’t get me wrong. Matches contested from March through October aren’t completely without meaning. The regular season determines which 12 teams make the MLS playoffs. Sometimes, it just seems like a monumental, money-grabbing waste of time.

Happily, the time-wasting ends now. Twenty-two of the league’s 23 teams have played 33 games. One, out of necessity, has already played 34. Eleven games are lined up today to put the 2018 regular season out of its misery and settle the final playoff order. Decision Day is upon us.

There are several matters to decide. Despite, or perhaps because, teams don't take the regular season seriously, every game on the final weekend holds some importance.

  • Two teams in each conference have unfinished business. Either they’re in or they’re out, depending on the outcome in three matches.
  • Two other matches affect the Supporters Shield, the [meaningless] trophy awarded to the club who wasted their regular-season more successfully than the rest.
  • Four matches in the Eastern Conference will [ahem] Impact the first-round play-in seeding.
  • Another four matches in the Western Conference determine both the top two who earn playoff byes and the order among the other four who contest the first round play-in.

If you counted 13 matches on a day when eleven are played, don't panic. Understand a couple are pulling double-duty. To clear up any further confusion, MLS refers to its first-round playoff matches as play-ins because they are one-off affairs at the higher seed’s ground whereas the Conference semifinals and finals are two-legged ties. The MLS Cup final reverts to a one-off format at the highest-ranked survivor’s park. I suppose that's the play-out.

Whatever you wish to call it, here’s a look at each match on Decision Day and what it portends for the playoffs. They all kick off at 9.30pm UK time, so choose your match carefully.

MLS Table
Martin Palazzotto

The former editor of World Football Columns, Martin authored the short story collection strange bOUnce. He appeared in several other blogs which no longer exist. Old, he likes to bring out defunct. If outdated sport and pop-cultural references intrude on his meanderings for It's Round and It's White, don't be alarmed. He's harmless.

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