Pa Doug McIntyre
Posted by FOX Sports Soccer

Editor’s note: MLS Footnotes will take you to the main discussion topics of the league and American football.

With just one week remaining in the 2022 Major League Soccer regular season, the playoff picture is almost complete.

MLS returned in full force over the weekend after the September international break. The action on the field — and its impact on the standings — did not disappoint. After a late-season lull that looked like it might cost them the Supporters Shield, LAFC rebounded and regained its status as the best of the circuit’s 28 teams by claiming the regular-season title in dramatic fashion Sunday.

With a mosaic run through st Portland Timbers defense, summer signing Denis Buanga scored the winning goal for the Angelinos in the fifth minute of stoppage time in the second half.

It’s the second Supporters Shield triumph in four seasons for five-year-old LAFC, who knew a win on Sunday would be enough after leading the Eastern Conference Philadelphia Union were stunned 4-0 by an expanded Charlotte side a day earlier. The win was Steve Cherundolo’s 21st of the season, a record for a first-year coach.

Cherundola’s team has already clinched first place in the West and the first round of the playoffs that goes with it. LAFC needs just three more wins to claim the prize they desire most: the MLS Cup. Sunday’s result guarantees that LAFC will host the Nov. 5 final at Banc of California Stadium if they get there. Having secured one trophy, they are now targeting the league’s most prestigious silverware for the first time.

“Everybody’s focused,” the LAFC captain Carlos Velawho scored the first goal in Portland, said afterward, “that’s the real goal.”

FOOTNOTES

1. Seattle’s playoff streak is over

The other big news of Week 33 involved Seattle. The Echoes played their final two games of the 2022 campaign knowing that even six points might not be enough to extend their streak to 14.

A 1-0 loss in Kansas City on Sunday sealed the Sounders’ fate. Rave Green will miss the playoffs for the first time since joining MLS in 2009.

“It wasn’t good enough today, and in some games down the stretch,” Seattle coach Brian Schmetzer told the FOX team after the game. “We just didn’t live up to our potential and I take responsibility for that.”

The buck always stops with the boss, at least in well-run organizations. The Sounders are definitely it. For a top-tier club with standards as high as Seattle’s, missing the postseason could be considered a firing offense.

Still, Schmetzer’s job remains as secure as any in the league. It should be so. His tenure has been impeccable, with four MLS Cup final appearances and two titles — plus a historic CONCACAF Champions League win in May, the first for an MLS team in more than two decades — since he took over in 2016. It’s not on the trainer; injuries are the reason Seattle’s streak ended.

The Sounders especially lacked a central midfielder Juan Paulo, who suffered a season-ending ACL tear in that continental final. And they were without Raul Ruidias on Sunday; after the star forward was not released to Peru for the Sounders’ match against Cincinnati on September 27, he injured his leg it also ruled him out against SKC.

It’s been such an MLS season in Seattle. However, the Sounders already have a lot to look forward to in 2023: they will become the league’s first team to compete in the FIFA Club World Cup early next year. Not a bad consolation prize. Having offered this deal back in February, most fans in Seattle would surely have accepted it.

2. Breakup of the union

A few weeks ago, Philadelphia looked poised to overtake LAFC and claim the best record in the league by the end of the season. A goalless draw against Atlanta United on September 17 put the Western leaders back in the driver’s seat. Saturday’s pasting in North Carolina ended any real chance of the Union winning the Shield.

Now Philly might not even win the East. With just one game to go, Jim Curtin’s side lead Montreal, who outscored the hapless DC United on Saturday – by just two points. The good news for the Union is that they are taking a FC “Toronto”. an 0-4 team, while Montreal travels to Miami on Decision Day with Inter, who are desperate to hold on to the conference’s seventh and final playoff spot.

A win would guarantee Philadelphia the No. 1 seed. Perhaps more importantly, it would prevent a team still considered a legitimate MLS Cup contender from entering the postseason on a decidedly bad note.

3. The galaxy goes back to where it belongs

Three more teams booked their tickets to the MLS Cup playoffs over the weekend, and none of them needed a win to do so.

Draw 1-1 vs Real Salt Late on Saturday was enough for LA Galaxy to return to the postseason for the first time in three years (and only the second time since 2016). That should be a huge relief for second-year coach Greg Vanney.

“We all signed up here with the responsibility to turn this club into the greatest club in the league,” Wani, the former Galaxy defender, said of the record five-time champions. “Tonight we took one step towards that.”

4. Nashville, NYCFC also lock in playoff spots

In addition to the Shield, LAFC’s latest win over the Timbers also sent Nashville, which lost 2-1 in Houston later Sunday, into the playoffs for the third straight season.

US men’s defenseman Walker Zimmerman scored the lone goal for the Tennesseans in stoppage time.

Meanwhile, defending MLS Cup champion New York picked up a win as Cincinnati lost to Chicago on Saturday. The Doves celebrated as they came back to win Orlando City on Sunday, just their second win in nine games. Interim coach Nick Cushing said his team used the international window to recalibrate.

“The group did an incredible job of making sure that the momentum, the enthusiasm, the energy, the cohesion, the belief was there,” Cushing said. “The break gave us a chance to just put all those things together.”

5. Five places at stake on Judgment Day

With three spots in the East and two in the West still up for grabs, more drama is expected on Sunday.

Before that, there are two key games in the East. On Wednesday, ninth-ranked Charlotte hosts Columbus, currently ranked eighth, while Orlando (sixth) and Miami meet in a Florida derby.

Four teams are alive in the west: Portland, Minnesota, RSL and Vancouver. The Timbers and Loons occupy the bottom two spots but have everything to play for. Portland (46 points) visits Salt Lake (44) on Decision Day, while Minnesota (45 points) hosts the Whitecaps (43).

One of North America’s leading soccer journalists, Doug McIntyre has covered the United States men’s and women’s national teams at numerous FIFA World Cups. Before joining FOX Sports in 2021, he was a staff writer for ESPN and Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter @Written by Doug McIntyre.


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