MLS Cup Playoffs: LAFC control path to Supporters Shield


By Doug McIntyre
FOX Sports Soccer Writer

Editor’s Note: MLS Footnotes takes you inside the major talking points around the league and across American soccer.

It’s a coin flip at this point.

With just two match days remaining in the 2022 Major League Soccer regular season heading into September’s international break, Los Angeles Football Club and the Philadelphia Union are tied with 64 points atop the overall MLS standings. It’s anyone’s guess which team will claim the Supporters Shield when it’s all said and done.

Philly were the clear favorites heading into Week 32. Then Atlanta United took two points off the Union, which wouldn’t even have gotten one without the heroics of goalkeeper Andre Blake. The scoreless draw on Saturday was enough to keep Atlanta’s slim playoff hopes alive for now. It also kept the door open for LAFC.

Carlos Vela & Co. gladly walked right through it on Sunday night, posting a 3-1 dub over the Houston Dynamo after settling for a point in Minnesota midweek.  

Vela twice gave the hosts the lead from the penalty spot in the first half before Ryan Hollingshead put the outcome beyond doubt in the second:

It was just the second win in seven tries for LAFC, which clinched the top seed in the Western Conference a day earlier thanks to a 1-1 tie between Austin and Nashville. It couldn’t have come at a more crucial time: LAFC is now back in control of its own destiny.

They do have the tougher remaining schedule, though. Philadelphia travels to Charlotte on Oct. 1 before wrapping up their 2022 slate at home to already eliminated Toronto on Decision Day. Meantime, Steve Cherundolo’s team must head to Portland — arguably the toughest away trip in MLS — before finishing up Oct. 9 against a Nashville team has the second-best record (4W-0L-2T) in the league over its last six matches.

Just one victory from its last two games would give Cherundolo his 21st and set a new high-water mark for a first-year MLS coach. Going two for two would guarantee LAFC its second Shield since 2019, with wins the first tiebreaker and the Union two behind, with 18.

It’s not just about the regular season title, of course. As much as both clubs want it, the biggest prize is MLS Cup. For all their regular season success in recent years, neither has won the ultimate trophy before.  

“If we can put a string of wins together here,” Hollingshead said after Sunday’s triumph, “Not only will that give us the Shield, but it will set up us well for some good rhythm going into playoffs.” 

Given the way things have seesawed in recent weeks, though, one still gets the sense that there could be another twist or two before the postseason begins, that either LAFC or Philly — the 2020 Supporters Shield winner — could end up on top.  

The race couldn’t be tighter. Who you got?   

FOOTNOTES 

1. Dallas, Red Bulls clinch

Two more clubs punched their playoff tickets over the weekend. After a one-year hiatus, FCD, under first year coach Nico Estevez, is back in for the sixth time in eight seasons.  

Meantime, the New York Red Bulls qualified for the 13th consecutive year.  

Nashville and New York City FC could have joined the Hoops and Red Bulls with wins and some help, but neither took care of business on their own. Now both teams will have to wait until next month.

2. There’s always next year 

D.C. United, Houston and the San Jose Earthquakes were the first three teams eliminated from playoff contention. They were joined over the weekend by three more: Toronto FC, the Chicago Fire and Sporting Kansas City

All three should be better next year. Chicago is in the first year of a re-build under new boss Ezra Hendrickson. Everything that could go wrong went wrong for Sporting Kansas City; expect Peter Vermes, the longest tenured head coach in the league, to field a vastly different squad next season.  

Then there’s Toronto. It was always going to take some time for TFC to retool under Bob Bradley, even if it seemed like the Reds were poised to make a late run when Italian national teamers Federico Bernardeschi and Lorenzo Insigne arrived in the summer and immediately sparked a 3W-0l-2T run.  

Things went sideways quick after that, and Toronto has been flat-out dreadful over their last three matches, conceding four goals in each of them, all losses. Having Bernardeschi, Insigne and Canadian internationals Doneil Henry and Mark-Anthony Kaye from the beginning of preseason should help next year, but it’s clear that Bradley – who also serves as TFC’s sporting director – has a ton of work to do on the defensive side this winter.  

3. Too little, too late?

As much as Atlanta was cursing Blake after Saturday’s draw, the Five Stripes won their two matches before that, keeping them in playoff contention for now. But the truth is that even a with a win against the Union, Gonzalo Pineda’s team still would face an uphill climb.  

As it stands, Atlanta sits two points behind Inter Miami for the seventh and final Eastern Conference berth. But because both Miami and eighth place Columbus have a game in hand, even season-ending wins at New England and New York City FC might not be enough.

4. Revs on the brink

Atlanta won’t fear that Oct. 1 trip to Foxborough. The Revolution — which set the MLS single season points mark just last year — are all but out after losing three straight games, including on Saturday at home to Montreal.  

Argentine forward Gustavo Bou played all 90 minutes, as he did in the defeats in Houston and New Jersey. But Bou, who had 15 goals and nine assists in 2021, has been limited to just 15 starts this season because of injury. That hasn’t helped.

“Gustavo missed too much time this year,” Revs coach Bruce Arena said, “And he’s not been able to come back in good form.”

Arena wasn’t done. “Last year we played well over our heads,” he said. “And I think some of our players never understood what made them successful last year. And it caught up with them a little bit.” 

5. Sounders, too

Even with three games left, Seattle looks all but out for the first time in their history following a spirit-crushing 2-1 loss in Vancouver on Saturday. The result snapped a 15-game unbeaten run for the Sounders against the Whitecaps.

Seattle now trails the LA Galaxy — which thumped Colorado by three goals despite Douglas Costa’s red card — by four points for the final spot. But like the Sounders, the Galaxy have played just 31 games.  

With the next contest for Brian Schmetzer’s side one of just two MLS matches during this international window (San Jose-Galaxy is the other), Seattle could be severely shorthanded for arguably its most important league game of the year.  

Schmetzer could be without up to six regulars Sept. 27 against Cincinnati because of national team duty. He’s hoping to convince some to release their players early, chief among them Peru and star striker Raúl Ruidíaz

“Obviously,” Schmetzer said, “Having Raul for the Cincinnati game would be a massive help for us.”

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


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