By Marco D'Onofrio
For the first time in Major League Soccer history, all Eastern Conference teams and then Western Conference sides will kick off the final match of the season simultaneously on Sunday. This will prevent any club from having an advantage as they will not know the results of their rivals' matches. It also sets up a very intriguing final match day for soccer fans to salivate over.
In the East, there are several crucial affairs to keep an eye on with the biggest taking place in Columbus. The Crew will host D.C. United with a first round bye on the line. D.C. United currently sit in second spot just one point ahead of Columbus, the winner of Sunday's tilt will finish second and automatically qualify for the Eastern Conference semifinals, avoiding the one game knockout match taking place in the middle of next week.
The second key matchup will see two Canadian rivals square off in what may be the most important match ever between the two clubs. For the first time in history, both the Montreal Impact and Toronto FC will be in the postseason and Sunday's game will go a long way in determining positioning. Toronto FC currently sit just one point ahead of the Impact in fourth spot, and a draw would likely allow them to play the one game knockout round at the friendly confines of BMO Field. A win would guarantee it, with the possibility of even getting a first round bye depending on the result in Columbus.
"It’s games like these that are truly meaningful that will bring out the most," said Toronto FC head coach Greg Vanney on Friday to members of the media.
"Sometimes in the regular season games you feel it but I think when it comes down to playoff games or playoff positioning games like [this Sunday] you really start to feel the rivalry come out because now they’re truly, truly meaningful. Everybody knows what’s at stake and I think the hostility will rise to a different level which is exciting. It’s exciting for the rivalry, it’s exciting for the sport. I know we as a group, and I’m sure them as a group, are looking forward to it. This is what it’s all about. We’ve waited a long time to get into this position."
The New England Revolution are also involved in a pivotal contest on Sunday, traveling to Yankee Stadium to take on New York City FC. Although the expansion club have already been eliminated from the playoffs, the visitors find themselves occupying the sixth and final playoff spot, but can move up with a win over NYCFC and other results going their way. They are the only team in the East's top six who haven't officially clinched a spot, but with Orlando City having to make up three points and eight goals, the Revolution will be playing soccer next week.
Finally, the single Eastern Conference match taking place at the same time as all the Western Conference games sees the New York Red Bulls looking to clinch the Supporters' Shield against the Chicago Fire. Both New York and FC Dallas are sitting on 57 points, but with the Red Bulls having a six goal advantage on goal differential, a win would almost guarantee them their second Supporters' Shield in three years.
Needless to say, Sunday's inaugural Decision Day will be an epic one that no true soccer fan will want to miss. The slew of Eastern Conference games kicks off at 5 pm/et, with the Western Conference and New York vs Chicago taking place at 7 pm/et.