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Galaxy will play Sunday with their eyes on the scoreboard

Galaxy will play Sunday with their eyes on the scoreboard
Galaxy midfielder Sebastian Lletget and Sounders midfielder Alvaro Fernandez, right, battle for the ball during the first half of a game on Sept. 25. (Ringo H.W. Chiu / Associated Press)

The Galaxy head into Sunday’s finale with FC Dallas (1 p.m., FS1, Fox Deportes) at StubHub Center having finished most of their heavy lifting for the regular season: No matter what happens on the field Sunday, the Galaxy will finish third in the Western Conference and open the postseason at home later this week.

Still to be determined, however, is when they'll play and against whom.

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Four teams go into the final day battling for the conference’s final three playoff berths. And Major League Soccer will wait until the postseason matchups are finalized Sunday before announcing which teams will play their playoff openers Wednesday and which ones will play Thursday.

“It does make a difference,” Galaxy Coach Bruce Arena said of the schedule. “It’s not going to end our world because we know where we’re going on Wednesday or Thursday. That makes it a little easier.”

Trying to figure out whom the Galaxy might play is far more complicated.

FC Dallas and Colorado, the conference’s top two teams, get first-round playoff byes, which gives the Galaxy the top seed for the one-game elimination round. That means they’ll play the sixth-place finisher, which will emerge from the quartet of Portland, Real Salt Lake, Sporting Kansas City and Seattle, who enter Sunday separated by just two points.

Seattle will play host to Real Salt Lake, which needs just a draw to ensure itself a postseason berth, something the Sounders could also clinch with a win. Either of the two could be eliminated with a loss.

Defending MLS champion Portland and Sporting Kansas City, meanwhile, enter the final day tied for sixth in the standings, with Kansas City holding a narrow lead in the goal-differential tiebreaker. That means Kansas City could advance with a loss against San Jose, provided Portland also loses on the road in Vancouver. A one-sided Portland win, on the other hand, could move the Timbers to fourth, giving them a home playoff date.

Last year it was the Galaxy who went into the final weekend needing a win to play at home. They lost, opened the playoffs in Seattle and lost again, resulting in their earliest playoff exit since 2008.

Absent that pressure this year, Arena will empty his bench Sunday. Neither Robbie Keane (hip injury) nor Steven Gerrard (hamstring) trained with the first team this week, leaving them unlikely to play, while Gio dos Santos, who appeared in two games with the Mexican national team earlier this month, may also be rested. That figures to create playing time for the likes of Ari Lassiter, Rafael Garcia and Dave Romney.

"It's nice to know we've secured the third spot. It's nice to give some guys some minutes with the playoffs coming up," said goalkeeper Brian Rowe, who may also get a break after appearing in 30 of the Galaxy's first 33 games.

While there's little at stake for the Galaxy on Sunday, FC Dallas has a lot to play for. Leading Colorado by two points in the standings, Dallas needs at least a draw to win the Supporters' Shield, which goes to the team with the best regular-season record and brings home-field advantage throughout the playoffs with it.

But Dallas, which has beaten the Galaxy twice this season, including in a U.S. Open Cup semifinal in Carson, comes into Sunday's rematch wounded, having lost playmaking midfielder Mauro Diaz to season-ending Achilles' surgery last week.

What's at Stake

MLS is calling Sunday "Decision Day" since playoff pairings are up for grabs in all 10 regular-season finals, which will kick off at the same time. The Galaxy, who have already clinched third place in the Western Conference and secured a home date for their playoff opener later this week, are the only postseason qualifier who have nothing at stake. Here's a look at what the other conference teams are playing for:

FC Dallas: (1st place, 59 points): Needs at least a draw with the Galaxy — or a Colorado loss to Houston — to finish with the league's best record and assure itself of home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

Colorado (2nd place, 57 points): Needs a win and an FC Dallas loss to clinch first place and the home-field advantage.

Galaxy (3rd place, 51 points): Will open the playoffs at home later this week regardless of Sunday's results.

Real Salt Lake (4th place, 46 points): Clinches a playoff berth with a draw in Seattle and clinches a home playoff opener with a win. A loss, however, could end Salt Lake's season.

Seattle (5th place, 45 points): Wins a home playoff opener with a win over Salt Lake and can clinch a postseason invite with a draw provided Portland and Kansas City don't both win. Would be eliminated with a loss if both Kansas City and Portland win.

Sporting Kansas City, Portland (6th place tie, 44 points): Both teams advance with a win, regardless of what happens in Seattle. One of the two can also advance with a draw — Kansas City at home vs. San Jose, Portland on the road in Vancouver — provided Seattle loses. If Seattle wins, however, only Kansas City would advance with a tie since it holds a narrow advantage over Portland in goal-differential. Portland could also advance with a loss if Kansas City loses by at least two more goals than do the Timbers.

Follow Kevin Baxter on Twitter @kbaxter11

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