Who and what to watch during the MLS run-in
When this weekend's action concludes, every Major League franchise except Wayne Rooney's DC United will have competed in 29 or 30 matches of the regular season's 34. DCU began the season with a light schedule while their new ground, Audi Field, underwent its finishing touches. In terms of points and games the Black and Red spent the entire campaign playing catch-up.
Given their games in hand, the side's playoff destiny lies within their control. Because MLS fields 23 teams in 2018, they're idle this week while the other 22 duke it out. There's a great deal to watch during the run-in to the playoffs beyond DC United's status.
The Supporters Shield, awarded to the squad with the best regular season record, remains undecided, as do the playoff seedings in both conferences. There's no promotion/relegation. Rather than bottom clubs playing crucial matches in North America, it's the teams in the middle who have it all to do. This is what's at stake.
- Teams who finish first and second in both the Eastern and Western Conferences receive a first-round bye in the playoffs.
- Teams who finish third and fourth host one-off elimination matches to advance further towards the MLS Cup.
- Teams who finish fifth and sixth travel to play the one-off elimination match. Sixth place meets third; fifth place faces fourth.
- Winning teams, according to their regular season finish, then face the first or second-place sides in their conference in a two-game aggregate playoff with the away goals rule activated. These are the conference semifinals.
- Conference semifinal winners play a two-legged conference final for a place in the MLS Cup.
- The conference champion with the best regular season record hosts the MLS Cup, a single-match final.
Various teams play for different stakes as the season winds down. Some hope to win the Supporters Shield or at least a first-round bye in the playoffs. A few extra days to recover from niggling injuries could be invaluable. Others seek precious home advantage in the first round. Still others, such as DC United, are desperate just to make the playoffs. Here's a look at each situation as well as the teams involved.