MLS Weekend Preview
Decision Day Approaches as Precourt Courts Austin
October 20, 2017
THE GRUELING MARATHON that is the MLS regular season will come to a frantic close on Sunday, but not before teams make one last attempt at jockeying for better playoff positioning.
Unfortunately for Columbus Crew SC, that will require doing so while playing under a giant gray cloud of uncertainty.
News broke earlier this week that Crew SC owner Anthony Precourt was preparing to move the MLS original franchise to Austin, Texas, in 2019 if a deal for a stadium in downtown Columbus could not be finalized. The relatively short deadline makes keeping the club in Ohio complicated at best, and that has also created a storm of unnecessary controversy ahead of Crew SC’s postseason participation.
I really do feel for you Crew fans. Its an uncertain time I recognize, and I take full responsibility for the situation I have put us in.— Anthony Precourt (@APrecourt) October 19, 2017
Columbus, like 10 other teams, enters “Decision Day” already assured of a spot in the playoffs. What seed it grabs is still very much in the balance, however, as the club can finish anywhere from fifth to second place depending upon Week 33 results.
It is highly unlikely that fifth-placed Crew SC can unseat New York City FC for the No. 2 spot despite being only three points behind—NYCFC is nine goals ahead in the goal differential department—but Gregg Berhalter’s men can realistically move into third with a road win over David Villa and Co. at Yankee StadiumCiti Field.
Emotional day for players, fans and the club. As professionals, we have the ability to make a difference on the field and continue— William Trapp (@wil_trapp) October 17, 2017
Doing so will be difficult, however. Columbus is on an impressive nine-game unbeaten run but players are dealing with the emotional aftermath of Precourt’s baffling choice to make this announcement at this point of the year. NYCFC on its own presents plenty of challenges, but having to face Patrick Vieira’s side with such a large distraction only makes thing tougher for a team that was full of confidence and belief just a week ago.
KING OF THE HILL
All of this weekend’s games will be played simultaneously, making the last dash for the Western Conference’s top spot one to watch.
Four teams are still in the hunt for that No. 1 seed but the only side that controls its own destiny is the Vancouver Whitecaps. A road win against the Portland Timbers, in what is guaranteed to be a rocking Providence Park, will assure Vancouver of postseason homefield advantage in the west. But the Whitecaps have to find a way to stymie MLS MVP candidate Diego Valeri in order to have a shot at that.
The Timbers’ playmaker has scored 11 times in the club’s last 11 games and is showing no signs of slowing down. Valeri scored one goal and had two assists in last week’s 4-0 rout of D.C. United, and will want to turn in an equally strong outing in order to give Portland a shot at finishing atop the conference.
His team sits only two points behind Vancouver in the standings, so a Cascadia Cup victory combined with favorable outside results in the Sporting Kansas City and Seattle Sounders’ respective matches against Real Salt Lake and the Colorado Rapids could give Caleb Porter’s squad the best record in the Western Conference.
WHO WILL SURVIVE?
While there will be plenty of eyeballs on those three games out west, it is not all about the Royal Rumble for supremacy.
The San Jose Earthquakes, FC Dallas, and Real Salt Lake all enter this final round of action looking to claim the No. 6 seed, but only one of the three will make the postseason. San Jose currently has the edge because it has more wins than Dallas and more points than Salt Lake, and also has the enviable opportunity of hosting lowly Minnesota United. Still, the Earthquakes have been inconsistent throughout 2017, so nothing is guaranteed here.
Meanwhile, FC Dallas needs to find a way—some way, any way—to get out of its slump in order to have a shot at saving its season. The club has won just once in its last 14 affairs, but has the luxury of taking on an LA Galaxy side that has been terrible all season. Another plus for FC Dallas is that the game will be played at Toyota Stadium, meaning Mauro Diaz, Kellyn Acosta, and Matt Hedges will have their fans cheering them on as they try and lock down a postseason berth.
As for Salt Lake, its attack will have to figure out how to get going since the club takes on Sporting KC and its stingy defense. RSL was held without a goal in Week 32’s deflating defeat to the Colorado Rapids, and a strong bounce-back performance is required on Sunday if it wishes to play again before 2018.
TIME TO SAY GOODBYE
The Western Conference might have the more compelling storylines but two games in two vastly different stadiums in the east will draw their share of attention.
Last-place D.C. United will say goodbye to the antiquated artifact that is RFK Stadium with a showdown against archrival New York Red Bulls. The affair is sure to bring with it plenty of emotions, especially since it will also be longtime D.C. goalkeeper Bill Hamid’s last game for the club, and will be a game to watch if you are an MLS historian or avid fan of the RFK raccoons.
Further south, Atlanta United will collide with Toronto FC in a fixture that could give us a preview of the Eastern Conference Finals. The expansion side is expecting another large crowd at its state-of-the-art home, and there should be some good soccer on display in this battle of contenders with the star likes of Sebastian Giovinco and Josef Martinez on the field.
MLS WEEK 33 SCHEDULE
Atlanta United vs. Toronto FC
D.C. United vs. New York Red Bulls
Montreal Impact vs. New England Revolution
New York City FC vs. Columbus Crew SC
Philadelphia Union vs. Orlando City SC
FC Dallas vs. LA Galaxy
Real Salt Lake vs. Sporting Kansas City
Portland Timbers vs. Vancouver Whitecaps
San Jose Earthquakes vs. Minnesota United
Seattle Sounders vs. Colorado Rapids