Galaxy’s MLS playoff path is straightforward; LAFC’s is a bit more complicated
Win and they’re in.
“We’re at home, in front of our fans, in our stadium,” coach Greg Vanney said. “With us controlling our destiny here, we’re good.”
For LAFC, things are a bit more complicated. It must win its game in Colorado, hope Real Salt Lake doesn’t win at Sporting Kansas City, then have Vancouver lose to Seattle. That will require a lot of scoreboard watching with all three games kicking off at the same time.
But none of those results will matter if LAFC doesn’t take care of business first.
Major League Soccer plans to start the 2022 season in late February and end in early October with the World Cup starting in November.
“Everything to play for,” coach Bob Bradley said. “We certainly understand the situation. We’ve got to take care of three points. We now know that we’ve got a chance to go to Colorado, win a game, maybe get a break or two and then go into the playoffs with some real momentum.”
Eleven teams will enter the busiest “Decision Day” in MLS history looking to secure a postseason berth, while six others will be playing for home-field advantage in the playoffs. Teams will have nothing to play for in just three of the 13 games.
“The amount of games that have something riding on them is really unique,” Vanney said. “Usually things aren’t quite as tight. Every game is meaningful. It makes for a wild day.”
The top seven teams in each conference will advance to the postseason and the Galaxy (13-12-8), who will enter Sunday in seventh, haven’t been below the playoff line all season. The first four teams in the Western Conference are locked in but with the top three — Seattle, Kansas City and Colorado — separated by just a point, Sunday’s results will determine which one will get a first-round bye and the home-field advantage after that.
Portland will finish fourth and open the postseason at home, but the next five teams are separated by three points, leaving each with the prospect of either going on or going home.
The Galaxy are stumbling to that finish line. After winning seven of their first 10 games, Vanney’s team has gone 6-9-8 since, with just two victories after Aug. 14.
And here’s another bad omen for a team needing a win on the final day: The Galaxy haven’t finished their regular-season schedule with a victory since 2012.
“We’re in a beautiful position. We can qualify for the playoffs. One more game, at home,” Javier “Chicharito” Hernández, the team’s leading scorer, said in Spanish.
“It’s a game of football — 11 against 11. We’re not going to play against extraterrestrials. And we’re not going to have to be superheroes to win. It’s going to be a beautiful game between two teams who are looking to qualify for the playoffs.“
If the Galaxy, who enter the game healthy, falter again they also can advance with a draw, but the math there is daunting and complex, requiring, in differing scenarios, Vancouver to lose to Seattle, LAFC to lose or draw in Colorado and Salt Lake to lose or draw in Kansas City.
How Galaxy and LAFC reach playoffs
They beat Minnesota United
They play Minnesota to a draw AND Vancouver loses to Seattle AND Real Salt Lake does not beat Sporting Kansas City
They play Minnesota to a draw AND Vancouver loses to Seattle and LAFC does not beat Colorado
They lose to Minnesota AND Real Salt Lakes does not beat Sporting Kansas City AND LAFC does not beat Colorado
Will clinch if it beats Colorado AND Seattle beats Vancouver
Real Salt Lake does not beat Sporting Kansas City
LAFC, meanwhile, has spent just one day above the playoff line since mid-August but goes into the season finale as one of the hottest teams in MLS, riding a six-game unbeaten streak that has carried it into the thick of the fight for a postseason invitation.
And LAFC, which has battled injuries to significant players all season, once again will be shorthanded, missing midfielder Eduard Atuesta to an ankle injury.
“The goal is clear,” captain Carlos Vela, who missed 14 games to a hamstring problem, said in Spanish. “This club is accustomed to fighting for a playoff berth, at minimum. We have a chance, so we’re going into the final looking for that.
“What’s in our hands is winning our game, and after that it’s a question of the other results.”
A win Sunday would leave LAFC (12-12-9) with an edge in the three tiebreakers: wins, goal differential and total goals.
Both the Galaxy and LAFC will advance if LAFC wins, Vancouver loses, Salt Lake earns no better than a draw and the Galaxy earn no worse than a tie.
In the Eastern Conference, New England has secured the first-round bye and home-field advantage thereafter but the next nine teams, bunched within nine points of one another, are scrambling to either get into the top seven and make the playoff field or earn a chance to open the postseason at home.