Now that all 22 MLS clubs have leveled out at 32 games played, it's safe to say the real fun is about to begin.
The next two Sundays will bring an onslaught of action across MLS, with a long list of games that will have decisive implications on playoff seeding in the Eastern Conference and playoff participants in the tightly bunched Western Conference. Here's what fans can expect:
- Week 33: Sunday, October 15
- 4 p.m. CT: Simultaneous kickoff of five Eastern Conference matches
- 6:30 p.m. CT: Simultaneous kickoff of five Western Conference matches + D.C. United vs. Portland Timbers
- Week 34: Sunday, October 22 | Decision Day pres. by AT&T
- 3 p.m. CT: Simultaneous kickoff of 11 games for all 22 teams
When the opening whistle blows at Toyota Park this Sunday, the Men In Red will be wholly focused on collecting the full three points in their final regular season home match against the Philadelphia Union, a team whose playoff hopes have been extinguished but just three weeks ago defeated the Fire, 3-1, in Chester, Pa.
- Playoff Tickets: Chicago-Fire.com/DigDown
But while the Fire are locked into the task at hand, fans will no doubt be keeping one eye on scores around the conference to monitor the Fire's progress toward securing the right to host a home playoff match. That could mean gaining ground on second-place NYCFC and third-place Atlanta United with an eye on the second position, or coupling a win with a Columbus loss or draw to assure itself a finish of no worse than fourth and a home knockout round match on October 25 or 26. (The Fire need only a point from the final two games to remain out of reach of the sixth-place Red Bulls.)
- More: Pauno Previews #CHIvPHI
With that in mind, below is a look at the three games this Sunday most relevant to the Fire's hopes for playoff positioning. Of note? Of the four Eastern Conference teams still jockeying for seeding in the middle of the table, only the Fire play at home on Sunday, while Columbus is the only side to be away from home for both of the remaining games.
- NYCFC at New England
- Previous 2017 meetings: NYC 2, NE 1 (Aug. 20); NYC 2, NE 2 (May 31)
- In brief: New England saw head coach Jay Heaps dismissed amid a difficult month of September, and NYCFC is eager to ramp up for the postseason after winning just once in its last five games (1-1-3).
- ATLANTA UNITED at New York Red Bulls
- Previous 2017 meetings: RBNY 2, ATL 1 (March 5)
- In brief: These teams have not met since Atlanta United's inaugural game in MLS way back on the season's opening weekend. While the Red Bulls came from behind to score a road win that day, Atlanta United is a different team, albeit one without key midfielder Miguel Almiron (hamstring). The Red Bulls, meanwhile, picked up their first MLS win since mid-August last time out against Vancouver to secure their place in the postseason.
- COLUMBUS CREW SC at Orlando City SC
- Previous 2017 meetings: ORL 1, CLB 1 (Aug. 19); CLB 2, ORL 0 (April 1)
- In brief: Wednesday's news that Brazilian superstar Kaká would not return to Orlando City SC in 2018 turned this weekend's match against Columbus into an emotional farewell match for the club's biggest name. Columbus will try to quiet the home crowd and attempt to extend their current unbeaten streak to nine in a row.
Follow all of the drama of Week 33 on social media and tune into full coverage with "Countdown to Decision Day Live" Sunday (3pm CT and 8:30pm CT) on the MLS Facebook page.
down. to go. pic.twitter.com/z7gsDfvcr9— Major League Soccer (@MLS) October 12, 2017