After seven months and 400-plus games, the 2019 MLS regular season came down to two hours Sunday on Decision Day. With every team kicking off their 34th and final match simultaneously, there were still plenty of important questions to answer.
Like, which combination of Western Conference teams — FC Dallas, the Colorado Rapids, Portland Timbers or San Jose Earthquakes —would take the final two spots in the MLS Cup Playoffs?
Could we really see a new single season points mark set for the third consecutive year?
And would Atlanta United striker Josef Martinez’s 31-goal haul from 2018 (which snapped a record that stood for 22 years) actually fall after just one season?
Here’s how it all went down.
Carlos Vela scores hat trick, smashes single-season goal record
Mexican international Carlos Vela has been the best player in MLS from the start of the 2019 season, and he only needed one goal to break the record Martinez set just 11 months ago. It didn’t Vela long to find the history-making strike; it arrived in fitting fashion 28 minutes into Sunday’s 3-1 win at Banc of California Stadium that ended the Rapids’ postseason hopes:
As it turned out, Vela wasn’t close to done. His 33rd strike of 2019 came three minutes later on a spectacular overhead kick, and he added his 34th to complete his hat trick in the second half. It was a remarkable finish to an otherworldly campaign by the 30-year-old who, in addition to his shiny new Golden Boot, is a shoo-in for league MVP honors as well.
LAFC clinches best regular season in MLS history
In just its second season since joining MLS as an expansion team, the Los Angles Football Club stands alone. Sunday’s Vela-led victory gave Bob Bradley’s side 73 points, one more than the New York Red Bulls got last season and four more than Toronto FC managed in 2017.
That’s some achievement for a club that didn’t exist three year ago. Outside of a late-season swoon, LAFC barely put a foot wrong all year. They’re the clear favorites to win MLS Cup now, although it won’t be easy. Just seven previous Supporters’ Shield winners have pulled off the Shield-Cup double, and Bradley’s already-depleted roster potentially took another hit after center back Walker Zimmerman had to leave the Decision Day contest with a head injury.
FC Dallas, Portland Timbers secure final two playoff spots
A San Jose win at sixth-place Portland would’ve been enough to leapfrog the Timbers and jump into the postseason. But even with the hosts missing their best two players in forward Brian Fernandez and playmaker Diego Valeri, the visitors couldn’t get the job done, dropping a 3-1 decision at Providence Park.
The loss completed a dreadful late-season collapse by the Earthquakes, who lost for the sixth time in a row and ninth in 11 games.
FC Dallas entered the final weekend on a four-match winless streak. But there was no Quakes-like slip-up from FCD, which trounced already-eliminated Sporting Kansas City 6-0. It was a team effort in Texas, too with six different players finding the net.
Galaxy loses finale despite Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s 30th goal
The five-time MLS Cup champion LA Galaxy are headed back to the playoffs on a wimper.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Co. had already clinched their first postseason appearance in three years, but they looked far from convincing in blowing two leads and eventually succumbing to the eliminated Houston Dynamo 4-2 after Ibrahimovic opened the scoring with his 30th goal of 2019, joining Vela and Martinez as the only players in MLS history to reach the 30-goal mark:
The match also marked the last in Dynamo defender DaMarcus Beasley’s long and decorated career. Not only did Beasley get a standing ovation as he left the field for the final time, he got to go out a winner:
Loss marks the end of the road for Rapids’ Tim Howard
Unlike his longtime U.S. teammate Beasley, the retiring Howard had a chance to extend his magnificent career by at least a game if Colorado could sneak into hte playoffs. That was always a long shot, considering that the Rapids had to travel to the Banc for their finale, and so it went as Howard and his team bowed out.
Playoff field now set
LAFC and Eastern Conference champ New York City FC — which beat the Philadelphia Union on the road Sunday — received byes for the first round of the postseason. But each of the other 12 qualifiers now know which team stands between them and the MLS Cup quarterfinals.
In the East, No. 2 seed Atlanta United will host the seventh seed New England Revolution. Third-place Philadelphia gets a visit from a sixth-seeded New York Red Bulls side coming off a 3-0 loss in Montreal. Meantime, Toronto FC’s 1-0 triumph over Columbus gives them hosting rights in the 4/5 matchup over D.C. United, which played to a scoreless draw with Cincinnati.
Out West, seventh-seeded Dallas travels to second-seeded Seattle, No. 3 Real Salt Lake hosts No. 6 Portland, and fourth-seeded Minnesota United and its Wonderwall welcome Zlatan and the Galaxy.
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