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Sounders looking forward to Decision Day chaos

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All but 3 of 13 games being played on the final day will have some impact on the playoffs.

If nothing else, high marks to the schedule makers at Major League Soccer.

“Decision Day” might primarily be a marketing opportunity, but it’s hard to imagine how it could be much more interesting from a competitive standpoint. As is now custom, MLS will have all teams (save one, thanks to the league’s current 27-team structure) playing in one of two time-slots Sunday afternoon. Of the 13 matches that will be contested, 10 will have some impact on the MLS Cup playoffs and 17 teams are still playing for something. That’s a record, according to MLS.

The simultaneous kickoffs — the Eastern Conference games will kick off at 12:30 PM PT and the Western Conference games will start at 3 PM — mean that as goals are scored, positions will change in the standings in real time. Fans will see teams slide up and down — and out — of the playoffs, making for an incredible spectacle for observers and players alike.

“I’m a big fan of Decision Day,” Sounders midfielder Cristian Roldan said. “I like the two separate time slots as well, for my selfishness. I want to watch the Eastern Conference a little bit, and see what’s going on there.”

Even better, many of the matchups will pit teams competing directly against one another, meaning the stakes are equally massive. That will mostly eliminate the prospect of teams running over unmotivated sides who are just showing up so they don’t get fined. The league even lucked out by having some of the also-rans playing each other, or not at all (Houston, they have no more problems this season).

On the field, the Sounders obviously won’t be able to sit back and check out the Western Conference games, but head coach Brian Schmetzer said he’ll be sure to keep an occasional eye on the happenings elsewhere.

“I don’t know what we’re going to do with our scoreboard, I’m sure the scoreboard will keep the scores updated,” Schmetzer said. “A little birdie might fly into my ear and give me some scores. It’s exciting. The games on Monday, Tuesday [and] Wednesday meant something. It’s pretty cool.”

Midfielder Kelyn Rowe said he is looking forward to the sort of pressure a day like this creates, recalling the last game of the season in 2013 when the New England Revolution needed a victory to make the playoffs.

“It’s excitement, that’s what everyone wants, the players included,” Rowe said. “This is fun pressure that we enjoy. For the fans, it’s an amazing thing to have every game going at once. It will be a fun experience for everyone.

“This is a great experience the pressure that comes on. You can see who really enjoys it, who steps away from it.”

Even with five other Western Conference matches going on at the same time, Schmetzer said the ebbs and flows of the day won’t impact his decisions on the field. At least not much.

“If you’re on the right side of scoreline, and you can lock a game down, maybe you do that anyway,” Schmetzer said. “If you’re in need of a goal, you’re probably going to do the same thing because you need a goal anyway. So there’s a little bit there, it might have a minuscule effect.”

MLS embraced the Decision Day concept back in 2015, though simultaneous kickoffs have been a thing in soccer for many decades, both domestically and on the international stage. Perhaps the most notable recent example was the final day of the 2011-12 English Premier League campaign, which featured Sergio Aguero’s title-clinching stoppage-time goal for Manchester City. In 2018, the Sounders went from third to fourth to third to fourth to third before finishing the day in second behind a dramatic stoppage-time winner from Raúl Ruidíaz.

While Decision Day 2021 won’t reach those lofty heights, it should be a memorable day all the same with the Sounders finishing anywhere from first to third.

“As a fan, I think it adds a lot more excitement to what’s going on in the league,” said midfielder Cristian Roldan. “Playoffs are what the American sport is all about so it’s pretty exciting stuff and hopefully it will continue to grow.”

Decision Day scenarios for Seattle Sounders fans

Seattle will clinch the top seed in the Western Conference IF:

  • Seattle win vs. Vancouver

or:

  1. Seattle tie vs. Vancouver AND
  2. Kansas City tie vs. Salt Lake AND
  3. Colorado lose or tie vs. LAFC

or:

  1. Kansas City lose vs. Salt Lake AND
  2. Colorado lose or tie vs. LAFC

or:

  1. Seattle lose by one goal vs. Vancouver AND
  2. Kansas City tie vs. Salt Lake AND
  3. Colorado lose or tie vs. LAFC AND
  4. Seattle win total goals scored vs. Kansas City