Home Soccer MLS MLS Weekly: Decision Day’s best moments and how they impacted the game

MLS Weekly: Decision Day’s best moments and how they impacted the game

MLS Weekly: Decision Day’s best moments and how they impacted the game

Welcome to the final edition of our regular season staff column, where we gather news, insights and highlights from around Major League Soccer.

It was the sort of do-or-die scenario expected when MLS revamped its playing system.

As the final seconds melted away in front of 66,000 people 400 miles apart in Charlotte and Nashville, a goal either way could have turned the tide of the contest. Charlotte sat in the game with Lionel Messi and Inter Miami holding a 1-0 lead. Anything less than a win, and Charlotte’s season is over. The New York Red Bulls, tied 0-0 in Nashville, needed a goal to keep their historic playoff run alive.

Both games served big time in those dying seconds that changed the face of the Eastern Conference playoffs.

An outstretched arm against Charlotte and a quick reaction from goalkeeper Kristjan Kaganna extended the home run. In Nashville, the big time came from the penalty spot.

The Red Bulls entered a decision day off the playoffs and could have been dropped by several points against a strong Nashville team that was guaranteed a postseason spot. In second-half stoppage time, Red Bull forward Luquinhas Mazey dribbled into the box and scored a penalty from Nashville’s Anibal Godoy. The penalty kick in the dying minutes would either extend their streak to 14 of the season or end it in heartbreaking fashion.

Most teams turn to a frustrated veteran during these times. For a team whose entire ideology in recent years has revolved around a commitment to player development, but entrusting homegrown left-back John Tolkien with pitch or break was fitting. Joe sent Willis the wrong way, burying the rebound with his left foot into the right corner before breaking away to celebrate.

Troy Lessen said of the 21-year-old United States international: “He’s been influential in my coaching journey, both as an assistant coach and as a head coach. “He’s a big voice in our team. Omir (Fernandez) is our penalty taker, but obviously Omir was out and then Jamie is the next guy to line up for that because he’s calm, cool, and he wants those big moments.

In Charlotte, the biggest moment was a goal save, when Cagliari got her finger out to the left to find Leo Campana’s far post. It was an incredible response, and it made the difference between going home and moving on.

“I told some of the guys in the dressing room, all season long, all my training this season, it’s all about saving up for this last one,” Kaganna said.

No team has dropped more points from winning positions this season than Charlotte FC. It was a statistic Charlotte coach Christian Lattanzio knew well. But he was “incredibly calm” in those final seconds, he said.

“Normally these moments should take years of life,” Latanzio said with a smile. “I’m incredibly calm because it’s going to happen. It goes the way it goes.

Charlotte moved – basically with a fingernail.

It was the kind of drama MLS expected when it announced its expanded format. Now, teams that have entered the play-in games must ensure that they are actually in the playoffs.

– Paul Tenorio and Jeff Rutter

Go deeper

MLS Game Picks: Explaining the new format and who will win the MLS Cup

Almada was suspended

Atlanta United have reloaded this summer with the goal of balancing their roster and filling key positions on the field. However, the team is heavily dependent on the creativity and production of attacking midfielder Thiago Almada.

So, Almada’s second yellow card against Cincinnati on decision day will be pronounced in the game — that red card will come with a one-game suspension, which will be in Atlanta’s playoff opener against Columbus.

His absence will be huge. Almada is a prolific creator and legitimate MVP candidate who finished with a league-leading 19 assists (as in MLS, counting first- and second-place assists combined). Everything goes through Almada and there is no other player like him that coach Gonzalo Pineda can turn to.

Atlanta hopes forward Giorgos Giakoumakis, who had an injury scare on Saturday, will still be fit enough to go through then. If not, an already difficult situation will get worse.

– Felipe Cardenas

Sports have crept in.

There wasn’t as much last-minute drama on the Western Conference slate as it was outside of the East, but that didn’t stop KC from taking part in a once-honored tradition. Final whistle.

When the Children’s Mercy Park Jumbotron showed San Jose and Austin tied 1-1, the SKC team and the rest of the fans erupted in joy, and rightfully so. After starting the season 10 games without a win and spending most of 2023 out of the playoffs, that result confirmed that Sporting KC will now host San Jose in a playoff game on Wednesday.

“Obviously, things didn’t start well. But for those of you who stuck with us, that’s what you get,” opposition Peter Vermes told fans from the center circle after the game, returning to the supporters’ club and raising a beer.

A win for Sporting in the playoffs would set up a matchup with regional rival St. Louis City, which has outscored SKC 9-3 in three games during the expansion season. Kansas City would finish eighth in the East and 15th in the Fan Shield standings.

“No problem to the passengers and doubters. Keep doing what you’re doing,” Vermes told the media after the game.

– Alexander Abnos

Acosta uses his head, Boupendza misses

At 5-foot-3, you wouldn’t expect much aerial ability from Cincinnati MVP candidate Luciano Acosta. However, the 29-year-old Argentine’s most famous goal in MLS was a header, and he added another goal on Saturday with his second goal of the night at Cincy.

“Size obviously isn’t what’s going to hold that player back,” FCC head coach Pat Noonan said. “When you see how he can play the game and how he uses his body smartly to his advantage. And while it’s not something we normally see how he scores goals, it was a well-placed cross and good timing.

Noonan also said DP striker Aaron Bupenza was not included in the match-day squad, which the club said in a statement was disciplinary action after arriving late for international duty with Gabon. After the game, Noonan was asked if the situation with Bupenza was a “sleeper”.

“No, he’s not in bed, but you’ve seen the description,” Noonan said. “He was arrested for disciplinary reasons and for not reporting on time. Until further notice, we will have a discussion internally and over the next 24 hours.

Bupenza signed from Saudi Professional League side Al-Shabaab FC in the summer. He scored five goals in 10 games for Cincinnati.

– Felipe Cardenas

Nancy Bowl

Wilfred Nancy’s exit from CFF Montreal was a messy one, with his decision to leave the club stemming from a dispute with owner Joey Saputo. He finished the season but decided not to come back.

A year later, Columbus is entering the playoffs and Montreal has fallen short. A nice, poetic finale to Nancy and the rest of Dream’s regular season.

“It’s a great time,” Nancy told the media after the game. “It’s a great moment because they met the challenge we gave them. Yes, to finish third but also to improve.

Columbus is one of the most exciting teams in MLS this year (and beyond), just as Nancy made Montreal one of the league’s most exciting teams last season, making him a finalist for MLS Coach of the Year in 2022.

Nancy and Columbus beat Montreal in both meetings this season. They finished third in the East and scored the most goals in MLS in the process.

Regardless of the Warriors, the team was motivated to finish the year strong, but it must have felt even sweeter for Nancy and her staff to win and eliminate Montreal.

– Tom Bogert.

Independent Group (East): Columbus Cr

The Columbus Crew has everything it takes to impress the neutrals during the playoffs.

Columbus is led by star strikers Cucho Hernandez and Diego Rossi, and the aforementioned Wilfred Nancy is a favorite. The strikers are the support and best of Cucho, Rossi and Christian Ramirez.

Cucho has 16 goals and 11 assists this season and leads MLS in penalty kicks and assists. Everything he does is always pushing the game forward. His relentless attacking mentality is a microcosm of this team, which has spent a greater share of this season than any other team – including their interstate rivals.

Leaguename Game State Percent

View by Jeff Rutter

The team led the league in goals (67) and saves (59). They try to play beautiful football… even when sometimes being practical is more important. They’re second in MLS in passes completed, but in the top third for possession in the final third – Columbus builds with attacking intent and immediately plays to get the ball back up the field.

Columbus won’t be the favorite in the East, but they certainly have all the tools to reach the MLS Cup, and get there in style.

– Tom Bogert.

With Toronto’s bottom-dwelling fate long sealed and CF Montreal knocked out of the post-season after John Tolkin’s late penalty, the Vancouver Whitecaps will wear the mantle of being Canada’s sole representative in the MLS Cup playoffs. It’s a far cry from the fact that they boast the league’s best player (Ryan Gould) and the best offensive player in 2023 (Brian White). They’re far from being a two-man show, but they put it on on Decision Day against Los Angeles FC, as evidenced by this beauty.

This is the stuff of champagne football without the team’s main strikers getting a single touch in the build-up. Vanni Sartini’s side can pull off these sequences regardless of their opponent, with plenty of players happily eating up and running into space. Only Cincinnati has a higher xG per shot than Vancouver’s 0.12 rate, aided by the league’s third-highest direct hit rate per game (3.0), allowing opponents to hold opponents in subpar defensive shape.

The West is wide open this year with a few teams that are easy to pull off from a neutral perspective. The Whitecaps, who are slated to face Los Angeles FC, have a chance to record at least the second postseason victory in the team’s MLS history.

– Jeff Rutter

Could the US Open Cup champions be the dark horse team in the playoffs? I think they can (and are).

The Dynamo finished fourth in the Western Conference after a 3-1 win on the road against the Portland Timbers, meaning they would have to go on the road in the conference semifinals and conference finals if they advance. Although their away record is poor, they have won two of their last three games on the road, including the Open Cup final.

They showed their playoff in the Open Cup run. From the round of 16 to the final, he finished as the top scorer with multiple goals at each stage.

Houston’s midfield trio of Hector Herrera, Coco Carasquila and Arthur may be the best in the league at controlling games and creating goals. Their offense is on top form after a slow start and is playing its best ball of the season overall.

Why not Houston?

– Tom Bogert.

While most of the world rested on South Florida, the best team in MLS was doing its job 240 miles to the north. Despite almost everyone in the sports department being in the final months of their contracts and selling top earner Erkan Karan to Samsungspor this summer, Orlando spent the last quarter of the season in full. They have collected 19 points from their last 8 games with a 2-0 win in Toronto. Cara Sale was eased into the lineup by rookie Duncan McGuire, and the Creighton product scored both goals against Toronto to bring his season total to 13.

Duncan Mcguire 2023 All Shots

Óscar Pareja’s side are in transition, maintaining their defensive form and benefiting from a balanced attack. Although MLS defenses are up to the quality of Facundo Torres and going forward, he is backed up by McGuire’s scoring and the play of Mauricio Pereira. It allowed them to finish second in the East, overtaking Columbus, Philadelphia and New England. They will face Nashville in the first round after defeating Tennessee 1-0 at Geodis Park in early October.

– Jeff Rutter

Who else is in the form?

Best player: Denis Bowanga

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Bouanga will be key for LAFC in the playoffs (Christopher Morris – Corbis/Getty Images)

Among the teams expected to seriously challenge for the MLS title, LAFC, the defending champions, are among the most dynamic.

Steve Cherundolo’s side scored nine goals in their two games as they drew 1-1 with the Vancouver Whitecaps on the deciding day. They had failed to score in four games before that. LAFC look completely toothless and lack ideas in attack, so they can destroy a team.

Imagine how they would have struggled without Denis Bowanga, who completed his MLS Golden Boot on Saturday.

The Gabon international has been under fire in his first full season in the MLS, which has included a campaign that has gone to waste, with fans of the black and gold seeing signs of inconsistency in quality. With the decline in attacking output from fading star Carlos Vela and the departure of last year’s top scorer Chicho Arango, Bowanga has become one of the league’s most aggressive goalscorers, playing mainly on the left side of Cherdolo’s preferred front three.

Bouanga has looked more devastating and confident in recent weeks than he has all season. Since September 15, the former Saint-Etienne forward has recorded nine goal contributions, the most of any player in MLS during that span. Earlier in the month, Bowanga scored a first-half hat-trick against Minnesota United, becoming the first player in the club’s history to do so. He followed that performance 3 days later against Austin FC and then scored the only goal against LAFC on Saturday.

He is the league’s in-form player, the club’s X-factor and the Whitecaps’ biggest threat when they face LAFC in the first round.

Elijah Burke

A good read

Michael Bradley’s playing season ended on Saturday. Paul Tenorio reviews Bradley’s time in MLS with the USMNT, plying his trade overseas, and why he drew so much vitriol from so many. Read it here.

A strange thing

George Brett is a World Series Champion and 13-time M.B. All-Star – A longtime Kansas City Royal who lived up to the city’s greatest sports moments.

But decision day? Well…decision day has arrived.

(Best photos: Christopher Hanewinkel and Denny Medley / USA Today Sports)