Major League Soccer

Decision Day aims for teams out of MLS Cup Playoff contention

Chris Smith
There is still plenty to play for on Sunday, even for those without Playoff hopes.
There is still plenty to play for on Sunday, even for those without Playoff hopes. / Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
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Decision Day is upon us. While for some it's do or die in the race to make the MLS Cup Playoffs, for others it marks the end of the their 2021 campaign.

Even though seven teams from each Conference can make the post-season, that still leaves another 12 combined who can go no further. In fact, heading into Decision Day, no fewer than eight clubs - four from each Conference - are already eliminated from Playoff contention.

Surely, each of those teams - apart from the Houston Dynamo, who are finished for the year - and the players within them have something to play for, right? Let's pick out one objective each for those unlucky strugglers.

1. FC Cincinnati - Play party poopers to Atlanta United

Brandon Vazquez has four goals and two assists in his last eight appearances.
Brandon Vazquez has four goals and two assists in his last eight appearances. / Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports

For the third year running, FC Cincinnati will be finishing in last place. They head into Decision Day with an 11-game losing streak, 14 defeats in their last 15. Nobody would blame them for clocking out and leaving Atlanta United free to run riot at TQL Stadium.

But at the very least, striker Brandon Vazquez will want to continue his recent uptick in front of goal, especially against his former club. Atlanta United could still secure home advantage in their opening Playoff match with a win here and other results going for them. Cincy could really throw a spanner in the works by going out on a high.

2. Toronto FC - Stay sharp for the Canadian Championship

TFC still have a chance at silverware this season.
TFC still have a chance at silverware this season. / Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Chris Armas didn't even come close to replacing Greg Vanney and lasted just 15 games in the TFC dugout. His successor, Javier Perez, has fared much better but Toronto still find themselves second-from-bottom in the East.

But there's a silver lining; the Reds beat Pacific FC earlier this week to set a date with CF Montreal in the Canadian Championship final. TFC host DC United on Decision Day and while it's probably tempting to ruin Hernan Losada's Playoff dreams, it might be better to rest the likes of Jozy Altidore and Alejandro Pozuelo. After all, the Canadian Championship isn't just a trophy, it's also a path into next year's Concacaf Champions League.

3. Chicago Fire - Young blood

Slonina has enjoyed a wonderful breakout campaign with the Fire.
Slonina has enjoyed a wonderful breakout campaign with the Fire.

17-year-old goalkeeper Gabriel Slonina has been one of the few rays of sunshine in an otherwise disappointing campaign for the Fire. But there is some optimism for next season, with a big roster shake-up expected.

With that in mind, their Decision Day trip to Columbus could be a perfect opportunity to throw a few more youngsters into the mix. The likes of Javier Casas and Brian Gutierrez might well be key to the Fire's rebuild, so why not give them minutes?

4. Inter Miami - Who stays, who goes?

Phil Neville has some big roster decisions to make this offseason.
Phil Neville has some big roster decisions to make this offseason. / Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Phil Neville has already told us what these final games of the season are all about: deciding who will stay and who will go for 2022. In essence, their trip to Supporters' Shield winners New England Revolution is the final trial for some as they look to convince the Herons of their worth.

"The building's started for next year, but these next two games are a great showpiece to say how badly do these players want it," Neville said at the end of October.

"They are suffering, they're hurting, they are disappointed, they're frustrated, they're angry, they're sad. Saturday’s another occasion to go out there and to prove that they deserve to be at Inter Miami come January 17th when we're back in preseason training.”

5. Austin FC - Top Texas

Austin can still end a tough expansion year by finishing above Houston and Dallas.
Austin can still end a tough expansion year by finishing above Houston and Dallas. / Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports

FC Dallas have already lifted the Copa Tejas, but Austin can still finish above their rivals in the table.

Verde will have to win a very tough away tie at the Portland Timbers and hope Dallas fail to win at San Jose to do so, but that would at least bring about a nice end to what has been a challenging expansion year.

Their amazing fans have earned that, at the very least.

6. FC Dallas - Get the Pepi hype train back on the tracks

Ricardo Pepi has 13 MLS goals to his name so far this season.
Ricardo Pepi has 13 MLS goals to his name so far this season. / Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The FC Dallas media department have gone to great lengths in getting us all extremely excited about Ricardo Pepi. And to be fair, they're right to do so, with the 18-year-old scoring 13 goals for a struggling team in his breakout campaign.

But Pepi has found the net just once in his last eight games. There are some vital World Cup qualifiers coming up that the United States really need the teenager sharp for and firing Dallas to an away win at the Quakes would be a good start. The same goes for Jesus Ferreira, who has been recalled into Gregg Berhalter's side.

7. San Jose Earthquakes - Be fun

The Quakes can be a little crazy and chaotic, but incredibly entertaining.
The Quakes can be a little crazy and chaotic, but incredibly entertaining. / Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

"It always pleases me to know that I have players who want to play and compete for a spot," said Matias Almeyda during his mid-week press conference. "Throughout the season, I think 98 percent of our players have played. We've been able to find a balance in each and every one of them. We're going to wait and finish off the week to determine how San Jose will continue."

So, we already know Almeyda is evaluating his roster ahead of 2022. But this is the Quakes. Even when they're terrible, it's in the best possible way.

What we all want to see on Sunday is one more enthralling rendition of their man-marking, high-intensity, chaotic style of play. It has the potential to rip Dallas wide open, while also leaving Ferreira and Pepi the freedom of JT Marcinkowski's box and, well, that's just fine by us.

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