Wednesday night in MLS is many things: some good ol’ midweek matches, the Portland Timbers’ game in hand against pretty much everyone above them in the table, and a chance to do something about the most bizarre stat of the season:
If you had told me back in March that Portland’s season may be coming down to a Wednesday night clash with the seventh place team in the East … Honestly, I might have believed you, because the Timbers never do things the easy way. But it’s still kind of shocking that we’re at this point. The upshot is that Portland still controls its own destiny: If they win their next three, they’re for sure in the playoffs
Of course, some beneficial results from around the league would also help, perhaps more than at any other point in the season (at least until the weekend). Here’s your rooting guide for Wednesday.
NYCFC vs. Atlanta United (4:00 p.m.)
The only game of the evening that has zero playoff implications for Portland. However, I’d argue Timbers fans have a rooting interest for one big reason: MLS Cup at Yankee Stadium. If NYCFC finishes with the top seed in the East (likely), makes it to the Final (decently likely), and LAFC falls along the way (more likely than you might think), then what do we have? A final on the smallest field in MLS, in a stadium that isn’t even a soccer stadium! It would be the most beautifully appropriate end for the MLS front office this season after all of the (many) missteps they’ve made along the way. Enjoy your crap soccer final!
Root for: A 3-1 NYC win. Maxi Moralez scores a free kick, a header, and forces an own goal. As the game winds down, a panicked Yankee stadium staffer is on the phone with an exec: “No … yes ma’am, soccer … no, a real soccer game. The MLS Cup Final. No, MLS, not M&M’s. Yes ... yes I know the baseball team is also playing … No, I have no idea why the soccer team is still playing here … ”. Seriously, MLS Cup at Yankee Stadium is so good and we should all want it to happen.
Minnesota United vs. Sporting Kansas City (5:00 p.m.)
I think it’s time for Timbers fans to accept the reality that Portland is not going to be hosting a first round playoff game, and may not even be playing in Portland at all if they make the playoffs. Considering how the last few home games have gone, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. This also means that Timbers fans need to accept not being able to finish ahead of teams like Minnesota and planning their rooting interests accordingly. In this case, rooting for SKC to be fully eliminated and throw in the towel.
Root for: A 3-0 Minnesota win. Lawrence Olum comes off the bench and scores off a corner. Kevin Molino gets a brace, one of the goals coming off a play identical to his breakaway on Sunday (except he, y’know, scores this time). Graham Zusi gets a red card giving away a penalty, while somehow also getting nutmegged again. Matt Besler watches from the stands and sighs, wishing his suspension lasted another game. Us too, Matt. Us too.
Real Salt Lake vs. LA Galaxy (6:30 p.m.)
Two Western Conference teams ahead of Portland? Both teams that Portland still has a chance to catch in the standings? A situation where it may be a better idea to root for “Zlatan and some other guys,” but I just can’t bring myself to do it? You know what that all means.
Root for: A boring 0-0 draw. Both teams combine for 50 total shots but zero goals, breaking the record set last weekend by Portland and Minnesota. Mike Petke, watching from his couch while planning his legal case against RSL (because that’s now a thing this season), realizes the problem for RSL: They haven’t been inciting violence against office machines enough. “That printer is probably just fine … ” he sighs as he shakes his head.
LAFC vs. Houston Dynamo (7:30 p.m.)
How has LAFC not won the Shield yet? I know everyone around the league was kind of praying for LAFC to slide a bit into the playoffs, and it looks like that is indeed what is happening. But it’s still strange that a team once hailed as the “best ever” in MLS hasn’t wrapped up the hardware yet. Call me petty, but I think it would be pretty funny if they don’t wrap it up until the final weekend and back into it by NYCFC losing.
Root for: A 1-1 draw. Houston scores a last gasp equalizer via Christian Ramirez, and the stadium falls utterly quiet. Like I’m talking “hear a pin drop” silent. It’s so quiet in fact that everyone in the stadium and watching on television can hear Will Ferrell screaming from his suite, “I thought I was the owner of a bunch of WINNERS, not a bunch of NOT WINNERS. If you ain’t first, you’re last!” Everybody realizes too late that he’s in character as Ricky Bobby from Talladega Nights.
San Jose Earthquakes vs. Philadelphia Union (8:00 p.m.)
Every week, there seems to be a rotating team in the west that is the most likely candidate to miss the playoffs. Three weeks ago it was the Galaxy. Two weeks ago it was FC Dallas. Last week it was Portland. This week? The San Jose “Fightin’ Wondolowskis.” Their ending stretch of games is brutal, and the last spot in the playoffs may come down to Decision Day in Portland. Let’s hope they drop as many points as possible between now and then.
Root for: A 4-1 Philadelphia win. Alejandro Bedoya gets a brace, and Fafa Picault (remember when he was a fringe USMNT player? Good times.) adds in two more. Chris Wondolowski, sitting in the stands with the San Jose fans while serving his suspension (really, that’s a thing that’s happening), slowly loses his exuberance as the game goes on. By the final whistle, he’s sitting down, forlornly staring at the goal and wistfully remembering better times, like when he was missing wide open chances, or scoring penalty kicks and screaming at goalkeepers.