What Makes MLS Decision Day So Great?

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After 33 rounds of action, including some midweek fixtures, the 2022 MLS All-Star Game, and Orlando City SC stopping Sacramento City in this year’s US Open Cup Final, this entertaining MLS regular season is down to a fateful afternoon. Sunday, the 34th and last weekend of the 2022 MLS regular season will play out in a chaotic four and a half hours. MLS Decision Day is upon us!

MLS Decision Day Coming This Sunday Afternoon!

It’s called the MLS Decision Day, an afternoon on which the final remaining spots for this year’s MLS Cup Playoffs are guaranteed to be booked. All seven matches in the Eastern Conference on Sunday afternoon are scheduled for an opening kickoff at just past 2:30 pm ET/ 11:30 am PT, with FS1 covering the early window.

FS1’s featured the MLS Decision Day game on Sunday afternoon will be Orlando City SC’s home finale at Exploria Stadium versus Columbus Crew SC in the 2:30 pm window. The network will provide highlights of other concurrent matches in that window as events warrant, during halftime of the featured contest, and after the game.

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In the Western Conference, all seven games this Sunday will kick at around 5 pm ET/ 2 pm PT. As of Thursday afternoon, ESPN‘s Decision Day coverage will air on its sister station, ESPN2, with the Disney-owned cabler’s featured contest being the Real Salt Lake vs. Portland Timbers match.

TV Alert

The ESPN2 designation of RSL/Portland is contingent upon ESPN’s channel space not being occupied by a potential game three of the Wild Card Series in the Major League Baseball playoffs. Presently, ESPN is slated to air the deciding game of the Tampa Bay Rays vs. Cleveland Guardians American League Wild Card Series from Progressive Field on Sunday at 4:07 pm ET/ 1:07 pm PT should it become necessary.

If three of the four ballgames scheduled for Sunday don’t need to be held due to a team completing a 2-0 sweep, ESPN may option to movie RSL vs. Portland to its main channel. The remaining baseball game would be held at 7 pm ET/ 4 pm PT on ESPN. Any other scenario for Game Three would result in baseball remaining on the main ESPN network during the Western Conference Decision Day window.

Should all four series end ahead of schedule, ESPN’s afternoon and early evening schedule will have a vacancy that might be filled by MLS. This will not be definitively known until Saturday night.

What’s Still Up For Grabs on Decision Day in the East?

After the two midweek games on Wednesday evening, there are still a few pieces to the MLS Cup Playoff puzzle that have yet to be put in ahead of Decision Day. 10 of the 14 playoff berths have been locked in as of Wednesday night.

What’s perhaps the most surprising question still to be answered is who will stake claim to the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference bracket.

A week ago, it looked all but certain that the Philadelphia Union would have the top seed in the East and the 2022 Supporter’s Shield wrapped up. The Union had to put the party on hold after getting shut out, 4-0 to Charlotte FC in a game that saw Daniel Rios score all four Charlotte goals.

Los Angeles FC clinched the Supporters’ Shield last Sunday upon defeating the Portland Timbers. If LAFC gets to MLS Cup, the Nov. 5 match will be held at Banc of California Stadium.

Philadelphia Union Clinching Scenarios on MLS Decision Day

The Union can clinch the No. 1 seed (and a first-round bye) on Decision Day if either of these scenarios happen:

  • Win/ draw versus Toronto FC
  • CF Montreal loses/draws versus Inter Miami

Should Philadelphia drop its second match in a row or the Toronto FC match ends level, Montreal would clinch No. 1 in the East and the bye with a victory against Miami.

Three Eastern Conference Teams In with a Victory

For three clubs in MLS’ Eastern Conference, MLS Decision Day means “win and you’re in.” Columbus Crew SC, which drew midweek at Charlotte in the resumption of a suspended game from July, will be in the playoffs if they win at Orlando. FC Cincinnati will go to the postseason if they secure a Decision Day win against DC United, but can also clinch a berth if that match ends in a draw.

Finally, Orlando can clinch a berth in the playoffs if they defeat Columbus on FS1 this Sunday. Even if Columbus wins, Orlando’s playoff hopes won’t be dead, since they can still clinch if the match ends in a draw or if DC United beats Cincinnati.

Playoff Picture Much Clearer in Western Conference

Meanwhile, in MLS’ Western Conference, the playoff picture ahead of Decision Day is as simple as can be: Minnesota United, Vancouver Whitecaps FC, the Portland Timbers, and Real Salt Lake will all be in with a victory late Sunday.

Oh, by the way, Minnesota and Vancouver and Portland and RSL all play against each other on Decision Day. The Timbers will also be playoff bound if the ESPN2 game ends level, and the same holds true for Minnesota in the game against Vancouver. Can you smell the chaos that’s about to ensue on Sunday? Smells like a Thanksgiving turkey.

So, one question still remains:

What Makes MLS Decision Day What it Is?

By definition, the final day of any professional sports league’s regular season is supposed to be one of excitement, especially with playoff spots still up for grabs. In some leagues, the final day of the regular season doesn’t quite pan out this way. Game 162 was played in MLB this past Wednesday and not a single playoff spot was available due to the bracket being fully locked in on Tuesday.

With all MLS games for the final week being played on one day, this isn’t a problem, because, as we’ve outlined, four berths are still at stake this MLS Decision Day.

All Games Played Simultaneously Leads to Drama

On Decision Day, all games in each conference will be played in the same window.

With seven games happening instantaneously, there’s bound to be a number of dramatic moments to be had this Sunday. Games with playoff spots at stake will undoubtedly be played with high energy, too, which leads to the last bullet point…

No One Has an Advantage and Final Thoughts

Given the fact that all games are happening simultaneously in each conference, none of the teams still in contention for a playoff spot will have the upper hand from one minute to the next. More accurately, none of the teams in contention for a playoff spot will have the upper hand from one second to the next.

We could have a goal in Orlando one moment on Sunday. Five seconds later, there could be a goal in Washington. It’s bound to be a chaotic, fun MLS Decision Day this year, much like it was last year.

Lastly, if there were ever a day for a multi-screen experience in MLS, Decision Day is it. Turn your TV on this Sunday, go to the national game and then fire up ESPN+ for the last time on a regular season MLS matchday before the new Apple TV+ deal takes effect and go back and forth around the league.

Soak it all in. Enjoy the day. The playoffs are coming right up.

Main image credit Embed from Getty Images

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Drew Zuhosky has been writing about MMA since the spring of 2018. A graduate of Youngstown State University in Youngstown, OH, Drew enjoys a good game and an even better fight. When he's not writing, you can find him playing video games and listening to music.