It’s Decision Day in MLS, where the final four teams will be determined after a two-legged knockout series. The race for tickets to the 2019 CONCACAF Champions League was also decided on Wednesday as Montreal Impact fell just short of securing their spot. Meanwhile, Minnesota United have secured their place with another 2-0 victory against LA Galaxy while Real Salt Lake made it through with a home win over New York Red Bulls..
Major League Soccer likes to brag about how tumultuous Decision Day can be. The truth is that it is and it isn’t all of the time. However, on Sunday, the pandemonium meter reached a new high, particularly in the Western Conference.
For the most of the day, it seemed like the LA Galaxy would be able to earn a playoff berth. Its match against Minnesota United was a crazy one, with the Loons jumping out to a 2-0 lead, the Galaxy coming back to tie, Minnesota regaining the lead, and Chicharito tying the game for the second time. Franco Fragapane missed a penalty, but it didn’t seem to matter since Real Salt Lake was tied with Sporting Kansas City.
Until it finally did.
– Play ESPN’s Soccer Playoff Pick ‘Em and predict the outcomes!
RSL’s Damir Kreilach sprang up five minutes into stoppage time to hammer home a goal courtesy of a bicycle kick assist from Justin Meram. The Galaxy found themselves in a Couva-like situation, believing they were done until the tables flipped late. An previous handball by RSL’s Justen Glad managed to escape the video assistant referee’s notice (VAR). The Galaxy were unable to recover, as Minnesota and RSL, as well as Vancouver (who made the playoffs for the first time since 2017), were eliminated instead.
Minnesota manager Adrian Heath told Fox Sports, “I wouldn’t want to go through it every week, gentlemen.” “Obviously, we received news on the bench that Salt Lake had scored, and we knew we’d be out if [the Galaxy] got another, which would have been a tragedy given how we performed today.”
“I’m happy for the guys, and I’m happy for everyone back home. We’re presently on our way to Portland.”
Given how RSL had dragged through the last weeks of the season, it seemed incredible that the team made it to the playoffs. With its destiny in its hands, the team managed to lose home games to San Jose and Portland while allowing seven goals. So why would anybody expect RSL to win in Kansas City, particularly with SKC still in contention for the Western Conference title?
The fact that interim manager Pablo Mastroeni switched to a 4-2-3-1 formation, which gave greater defensive consistency, surely helped. With nothing to lose, RSL took solace in the notion that it was still in the chase, and with a match winner like Kreilach in their ranks, there was every reason to believe they could win.
“I believe the term is belief,” interim manager Pablo Mastroeni remarked as he sipped his postgame drink.
“I believe that if you lose it, it doesn’t matter what style of play you use or what formations you use… Because you kept going and going, I knew there was a lot of belief on the field. A team that refuses to believe raises its hands and hangs its head. And these guys have been soldiers throughout the year.”
The Galaxy’s loss was capped off by RSL’s victory. Even when Chicharito returned from injury, this was a team that had only won two of its previous 15 games. It will now watch the playoffs from home for the fourth time in five years. And, despite all of the rhetoric about laying a foundation, a club with the Galaxy’s riches should be able to make the playoffs anyway. This is a complete and utter failure.
The Galaxy isn’t on its own. LAFC was regarded to be among the league’s nobility before the start of the year. The Colorado Rapids, although not quite penniless, were regarded as second-best at best. After all, it was LAFC that had Carlos Vela and Brian Rodriguez among its ranks. Although Diego Rossi left in the middle of the season, he was replaced by Cristian Arango, who scored 14 goals and added two assists. Colorado and GM Padraig Smith were good at acquiring excellent players like Kellyn Acosta and Michael Barrios, but they weren’t a team that intimidated opponents.
On Sunday, however, the clubs’ fortunes displayed a major role reversal, as Colorado thrashed LAFC 5-2. The Rapids took over first place in the West as the Seattle Sounders drew 1-1 in Vancouver, while LAFC missed the playoffs for the first time in their short existence.
The Black and Gold’s inability to reach the playoffs seems to be the end of an era. Bradley and Vela have reached the end of their contracts. Since the franchise’s inception in the 2018 season, both the manager and the player have been the collective face of the organization. The Los Angeles Football Club enters the offseason with greater uncertainty than ever before.
The Rapids, on the other hand, deserve credit. In addition to Smith’s trade market activities, Robin Fraser has done an outstanding job as manager. This is a group whose sum total is unquestionably bigger than the sum of its parts. Is Colorado good enough to go all the way? It won’t hurt to play at a higher altitude, and Fraser has the management skills to do it happen. But, at the very least, the Western Conference’s tectonic plates are moving.
The Red Bulls have survived their ‘roller-coaster journey.’
Gerhard Struber had a smirk that resembled that of an enraged scientist whose risky experiment had turned out just as he had anticipated. When the rest of the Eastern Conference’s music had stopped, the New York Red Bulls, aka Frankenstein’s Monster, had just ground out a 1-1 draw against Nashville SC, RBNY was able to snag the seventh and final playoff spot at the expense of D.C. United, CF Montreal, and reigning MLS Cup champions the Columbus Crew.
This was also not an example of a club backing out of the playoffs. The Red Bulls finished 7-1-4 down the stretch, which was five points better than the Crew, eight points better than DCU, and ten points better than Montreal during the same span.
For Struber, it was a matter of his team catching on to his high-press strategy. The first three to four months of the season, he described as a “roller-coaster journey.” The Red Bulls’ chances of reaching the playoffs were rated at 7% before to their game against Miami on Sept. 17. New York, on the other hand, triumphed 4-0 that night, kicking off a stretch in which the team’s performance was more consistent.
He remarked of his players, “What I want from them in every single game is [now] more and more in their head.” “Now I believe you can give a wake-up call at 2 a.m. and every single player will understand what we want, and I believe this is the most significant response for our style of play.”
Decision Day got off to a brilliant start for lovers of pandemonium, with Fabio putting the Red Bulls up 1-0 after only 38 seconds, corralling Christian Casseres’ cross and blasting past Nashville goalkeeper Joe Willis. Later in the half, Nashville answered with a free kick from Hany Mukhtar that deflected off Fabio’s head. After that, New York had to deal with a second-half blitz. D.C. United was leading Toronto FC 3-1, and the Black and Red would have gotten in if the Red Bulls had surrendered. New York came out on top, earning a first-round matchup against the Philadelphia Union.
Columbus, who failed to qualify for the playoffs a year after winning the MLS Cup, deserves particular note among those clubs hurting from losing out. It also extends a strange streak for manager Caleb Porter, whose clubs have never made the playoffs in consecutive years.
Montreal, on the other hand, is in desperate need of novocaine. The match between CFM and Orlando was practically a winner-take-all affair, and Montreal was expected to have the upper hand due to its home venue, Stade Saputo. Instead, it resulted in a collective collapse marked by missed opportunities and a lack of discipline. Montreal, too, had no success. Already behind Sebastian Mendez’s 55th-minute miracle goal, an apparent goal by Romell Quioto was ruled out for offside, despite the fact that replays from poor angles suggested it should have stood. From then, Montreal’s game fell apart. Rudy Camacho was sent off in the 79th minute, and Daryl Dike clinched the victory with a counter-attack goal seven minutes later.
Given that Thierry Henry quit as manager only days before preseason began, if Montreal had made the playoffs, it would have been a remarkable feat. In his place, Wilfried Nancy pushed his team ahead, while Djordje Mihailovic had an outstanding season with four goals and 16 assists. It wasn’t enough in the end, and Nancy will have to try again next season.
Castellanos is the winner of the Golden Boot.
Due to two goals against Toronto FC, it seemed like D.C. United’s Ola Kamara would win the Golden Boot this year instead of NYCFC’s Taty Castellanos. It appeared even more plausible when NYCFC was reduced to ten men against the Philadelphia Union in the 21st minute due to Gedion Zelalem’s red card.
But then, in the 53rd minute, Castellanos worked his magic, connecting on Maxi Moralez’s cross to not only tie the game, but also draw level with Kamara.
Both guys ended up with 19 goals in the end. Castellanos would have won it on his own if he had converted more of his opportunities (his predicted goals were 22.84 compared to Kamara’s 17.40). With eight assists against Kamara’s five, Castellanos won the tiebreaker and the Golden Boot.