MLS playoff scenarios: Decision Day to set postseason bracket for 2023 Cup fixtures on final matchday

The final matchday of the 2023 Major League Soccer regular season is upon us, and there is still much to be determined.

Just 90 minutes remain on Saturday, October 21, or “Decision Day” as it’s known across MLS, which will seal the fates of teams across the league.

Heading into Decision Day this season, only eight teams across the league truly have nothing to play for, as five teams have been eliminated from postseason contention — including Lionel Messi’s Inter Miami — while three top teams have been locked into their final table position prior to kickoff.

That leaves the remaining 21 teams with something on the line. Ten sides are jockeying for playoff seeding and the potential right to host postseason matches, while 11 clubs have yet to mathematically secure a postseason berth and must earn points to ensure they have a shot at the MLS Cup title.

MORE: Schedule and bracket for 2023 MLS playoffs

Decision Day fixtures on final MLS regular-season matchday

To ensure the highest sporting integrity, all matches on Decision Day will kick off simultaneously in order to keep any teams with later kickoffs from having an advantage by knowing exactly what they need to achieve certain goals. This is common in top leagues around the world, including England’s Premier League.

There is only one match that is truly meaningless, as Toronto FC and Orlando City are both meeting with nothing to play for on either side. Every other match has at least some influence on the final postseason places.

There are two matchups of teams which both have yet to see their playoff fates decided, one in each conference, featuring two teams entering the day below the cutline. NYCFC and Chicago meet with a chance to snatch three points with which to vault themselves into a playoff spot, while Sporting KC and Minnesota United are in the same boat further west.

Date Time (ET) Fixture On the line
Sat, Oct. 21 6 p.m. New England vs. Philadelphia New England: playoff seeding
Philadelphia: playoff seeding
Sat, Oct. 21 6 p.m. FC Cincinnati vs. Atlanta United Cincinnati: nothing
Atlanta: playoff seeding
Sat, Oct. 21 6 p.m. NYCFC vs. Chicago Fire NYCFC: playoff spot
Chicago Fire: playoff spot
Sat, Oct. 21 6 p.m. Nashville SC vs. NY Red Bulls Nashville: playoff seeding
NY Red Bulls: playoff spot
Sat, Oct. 21 6 p.m. Columbus vs. FC Montreal Columbus: playoff seeding
FC Montreal: playoff spot
Sat, Oct. 21 6 p.m. Charlotte FC vs. Inter Miami Charlotte: playoff spot
Inter Miami: eliminated
Sat, Oct. 21 6 p.m. Toronto FC vs. Orlando City Toronto FC: eliminated
Orlando: nothing
Sat, Oct. 21 6 p.m. San Jose vs. Austin FC San Jose: playoff spot
Austin FC: eliminated
Sat, Oct. 21 6 p.m. Portland vs. Houston Portland: playoff spot
Houston: playoff seeding
Sat, Oct. 21 6 p.m. Vancouver vs. LAFC Vancouver: playoff seeding
LAFC: playoff seeding
Sat, Oct. 21 6 p.m. St. Louis City vs. Seattle St. Louis: nothing
Seattle: playoff seeding
Sat, Oct. 21 6 p.m. Colorado vs. Real Salt Lake Colorado: nothing
RSL: playoff seeding
Sat, Oct. 21 6 p.m. Sporting KC vs. Minnesota SKC: playoff spot
Minnesota: playoff spot
Sat, Oct. 21 6 p.m. LA Galaxy vs. FC Dallas LA: eliminated
FC Dallas: playoff spot

MLS table, standings 2023

This is how the MLS table looks heading into the final weekend of the 2023 regular season.

Teams must finish ninth or higher in their respective conference to reach the MLS Cup playoffs. Teams in eighth and ninth will contest the Wild Card round, while those seventh and above earn a bye into Round One.

In Major League Soccer, the top tiebreaker is NOT goal differential, but instead most victories through the season. Goal differential is second, followed by goals scored.

z – clinched Conference regular season title
y – clinched bye to Round One
x – clinched playoff spot
e – eliminated

Only teams with a chance to make the playoffs entering Decision Day shown.

Eastern Conference

In the Eastern Conference, heading into Decision Day, the top two teams are locked into their positions, while the top seven teams are assured not only of a playoff spot, but of a bye to Round One.

That leaves just the final two Wild Card positions up for grabs, and there are a host of teams involved. Prior to Decision Day kickoff, six teams are still in contention for the two postseason places.

In an oddity, due to the odd number of teams in the league, D.C. United finished their regular-season slate prior to Decision Day, meaning they have been eliminated from contention despite sitting above the cutline as the final matchday begins.

Pos. Team Pts W-L-D GD
1. FC Cincinnati-z 68 20-8-5 +18
2. Orlando City-y 60 17-9-7 +14
3. Philadelphia Union-y 55 15-10-8 +17
4. Columbus Crew-y 54 15-9-9 +20
5. New England Revolution-y 52 14-10-9 +11
6. Atlanta United-y 50 13-11-9 +13
7. Nashville SC-y 49 13-10-10 +8
8. FC Montreal 41 12-5-16 -15
9. D.C. United-e 40 10-10-14 -4
—————- ———
10. NY Red Bulls 40 10-10-13 -4
11. Chicago Fire 40 10-10-13 -11
12. Charlotte FC 40 9-13-11 -8
13. NYCFC 38 8-14-11 -5

Western Conference

St. Louis City SC are the only team who are assured of their table position heading into Decision Day, while the top six teams have all secured playoff spots and are all settled into a Round One spot, although their eventual seeds are mostly yet to be determined.

The final Round One place, and both Wild Card spots, are still to be decided, with five teams in the mix for three postseason spots.

Pos. Team Pts W-L-D GD
1. St. Louis City SC-z 56 17-5-11 +19
2. LAFC-y 51 14-9-10 +15
3. Seattle Sounders-y 50 13-11-9 +7
4. Houston Dynamo-y 48 13-9-11 +11
5. Real Salt Lake-y 47 13-8-12 -3
6. Vancouver Whitecaps-y 47 12-11-10 +7
7. Portland Timbers 43 11-10-12 -10
8. FC Dallas 43 10-13-10 +1
9. San Jose Earthquakes 43 10-13-10 -4
—————- ———
10. Sporting KC 41 11-8-14 -5
11. Minnesota United 41 10-11-12 -3

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