Major League Soccer's Decision Day promises drama in the West in its second year

In 2012, the Premier League’s end-of-season format made a mighty compelling case to MLS brass.

For years, the Premier League has wrapped up its season by synching kickoff times on the final day of the season. In some cases, the point at the top of the table is moot. In 2016, for instance, Leicester City’s final match was more of a title coronation than it was a determiner. But elsewhere, Champions League spots were up for grabs. Europa League spots were on the line. Relegation battles needed deciding.

But 2012 was a stirring example of what the format can produce. Manchester City wrapped up its first league title in 43 years with two stoppage time goals in the final minutes of the season. It was without question the most dramatic moment in Premier League history, and it wouldn’t have been nearly the same without synched up schedules on the season’s final day.

MLS introduced that format last season with stirring results. Termed Decision Day, the league lined up Western Conference and Eastern Conference matches next to one another in two wildly entertaining time slots.

The fact that the Sounders were involved only honeyed the pot as Seattle barged its way into the playoffs on the final day. The West was so tight last year that the Sounders could’ve finished anywhere from second place to completely out of the playoffs depending on various results. They ultimately settled in the middle, winning a 3-1 meeting against RSL to snag a No. 4 seed for home field advantage they used to good effect.

This was the ultimate point of Decision Day, to present teams with a vast array of possibilities all being realized roughly at the same time. In 2015, the Sounders were in and out of the playoffs three times over the course of their match with RSL. The drama was unmistakable.

The Sounders one again face RSL at home with everything on the line, but they aren’t the only two teams in the Western Conference needing results to keep their seasons alive. Here’s a look at the other two of the West’s pivotal matchups to decide who gets in on Sunday and what you need to know about each.

Portland Timbers at Vancouver Whitecaps FC

The Timbers’ situation was unquestionably the most dire of any playoff contender in the West a week ago. Portland couldn’t draw or lose to a Colorado Rapids team vying for the best record in MLS. Backs against the wall, the Timbers found a way, gritting out a 1-0 win at home to stay alive. Life is less dicey now, but it still isn’t great.

If the table froze today, Portland would be the last out by virtue of its goal differential. Since the Timbers are tied with Sporting KC on wins, it reverts to the second tiebreaker, which makes Portland’s life complicated this weekend. There are a couple scenarios that’ll get Portland into the postseason, and the Timbers don’t have to win. They can draw and hope SKC loses. The best the Timbers can hope for is either RSL or Seattle to win, a win against Vancouver and a Sporting KC loss or draw. That’d push Portland up to a No. 5 seed and leave RSL and SKC to duke it out for No. 6.

By all accounts, the omens are good. Vancouver is a team in disarray, with recent reports suggesting a practice dust-up between keeper David Ousted and Pedro Morales. The Whitecaps are ninth in the Western Conference and can finish no higher than eighth, a bitter pill after a stirring playoff run last year. Can the Whitecaps get up for a game that doesn’t matter against a Timbers side fighting for their season? All signs point toward three points for Portland.

San Jose Earthquakes at Sporting Kansas City

It wasn’t that long ago that Sporting KC was firmly in the playoffs and looking toward a possible bye. Now, SKC is simply scrapping for its postseason life. Luckily for them, the auguries are good. At least they certainly look good on the surface.

The Timbers may face a similarly positioned team in terms of the standings, but remember that’s a Cascadia Cup match. Vancouver will (and should) be firm underdogs in that match, but these Cascadia battles have a way of coming out wonky. Plus, Portland still hasn’t won a single game on the road this year. To ensure themselves a playoff berth, they’ll have to break up that steak of ignominy. Meanwhile, SKC gets its do-or-die matchup at home.

SKC’s scenario isn’t all that dissimilar to Portland’s. They also sit on 44 points and can use help from matches elsewhere. The difference, though, is that they have slightly more wiggle room because they currently hold the tiebreaker against Portland. All SKC has to do to ensure it makes the playoffs is match or supersede whatever Portland does. Timbers lose? SKC can lose too, so long as it’s not by more goals. Timbers draw? SKC can draw by any scoreline. Timbers win? So long as Portland doesn’t win by a wider margin, SKC is in.

If it doesn’t? Well, then it’s time to turn to the abacus.

That’s par for the course this time of year. Higher up the table, FC Dallas and the Colorado Rapids have matches to determine who wins the Supporters' Shield, but the real drama is further down the table. Once again, Decision Day will bring the noise.

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