MLS Decision Day: Which club faces the most pressure?
Sunday is Decision Day in Major League Soccer, as the league's 20 clubs finish their regular-season campaigns. The Eastern Conference games take place at 5 p.m. ET, followed by the West at 7 p.m. ET.
Playoff spots and positions are on the line for several clubs, but which are under the most pressure? We asked our writers for their views.
The Seattle Sounders control their own destiny this weekend, but the club's nightmare scenario remains very much in play. A failure to win at home against Real Salt Lake could allow both the San Jose Earthquakes and Sporting Kansas City to leap over Seattle in the Western Conference standings, thus leaving the Sounders outside the playoffs for the first time in its MLS history.
Seattle clearly has the most to lose during this weekend's Decision Day, as missing out on the postseason would cut deep on many levels. The Sounders have as talented a roster as any in MLS, and per the most recent numbers from the MLS Players Union, they have the league's fourth-highest payroll at $13.28 million. Only the LA Galaxy, New York City FC, and Toronto FC have spent more.
Seattle also won the Supporters' Shield in 2014, and nothing less than a trip to the MLS Cup final was expected this season. While it's true that the Sounders have suffered a fair number of injuries and games missed because of international commitments, missing out on the postseason would amount to a shockingly poor return on its investment.
Such a failure would no doubt jeopardize the tenure of manager Sigi Schmid, though he signed a multiyear contract extension after the end of the 2014 campaign. But regardless of Schmid's status, Seattle is a team that, given its advanced age, is seeing its championship window closing fast. Seven of the 10 field players from last weekend's starting lineup are at least 30 years old, with another two checking in at 29. It seems inevitable that significant changes will take place this offseason. All the more reason for the Sounders to get the job done this weekend.
-- Jeff Carlisle (@JeffreyCarlisle)
Any other year, the final week of the MLS regular season might not be such a big deal for the LA Galaxy.
They've been here before, rolling into the postseason on something short of full momentum, but they never seem to have a problem turning it on when they get there. It's the savvy of manager Bruce Arena, an adept master of the quick-turning MLS postseason. He has big-name talents that have experienced winning in the competition before and has instilled resolute defending, which has long been the underrated springboard from which the Galaxy launch themselves to championships.
But this year, there's a difference. If the last week of the 2015 MLS season doesn't go their way, which would mean the Galaxy stumble in Kansas City and a few other results push teams ahead of them, LA will be forced to go on the road in a one-off playoff game. That's trouble because this Galaxy team's one major flaw is its inability to find form on the road.
Only two teams in MLS have the same number or fewer wins away from home than the Galaxy do in 2015, and neither of those teams (the Chicago Fire and the Houston Dynamo) made the playoffs. At the StubHub Center (aside from Sunday's humbling defeat at the hands of the Timbers), the Galaxy look unstoppable; on the road, it's an entirely different story. The club's goal differential at home is a robust plus-25. On the road, it's a horrifying minus-14. The reasons remain a mystery.
It's too late to fix whatever the problem might be, so if the Galaxy are going to repeat as champions and win an unprecedented fourth title in five years, finishing no lower than fourth is imperative. Seeding matters to no team more than it does the Galaxy, and Decision Day isn't about getting in -- they've already done that -- it's about making sure they get to play at home.
-- Jason Davis (@davisjsn)
Sporting Kansas City
As the lone Western Conference playoff contender with two games remaining on its 2015 slate, Sporting Kansas City has everything to gain heading into the final four days of the MLS regular season.
They also have everything to lose.
While a pair of wins would guarantee that SKC finishes in second place in the West behind newly minted conference champ FC Dallas, securing Sporting a first-round playoff bye, a loss at home against the already-eliminated Colorado Rapids on Wednesday night would leave Peter Vermes' men in the unenviable position of having to beat defending MLS Cup holder LA Galaxy in Sunday's finale (7 p.m. ET, ESPN/WatchESPN) just to guarantee a postseason berth.
And the midweek match has trap game written all over it for Sporting. Sure the Rapids are the West's worst side and losers of four straight and are also buoyed by the fact that they can play with the freedom of a team that has nothing to lose.
With the rested Galaxy awaiting Sporting KC (Wednesday's game was originally scheduled in May but moved for inclement weather), getting three points against Colorado is imperative for SKC.
Their playoff lives could depend on it.
-- Doug McIntyre (@DougMacESPN)