COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — The Major League Soccer regular season is concluding Saturday, otherwise known as “Decision Day,” as 28 of 29 teams play. Some will play for a spot in the MLS Cup Playoffs. Others, like the Crew, are playing for a chance to earn home-field advantage in the first round.
The Crew will play CF Montreal at 6 p.m. at Lower.com Field. While Montreal is playing for a playoff spot, the Crew will look to guarantee an edge for the first round in the newly modeled MLS Cup Playoffs.
Here is how Columbus can claim home-field advantage for the first round and how the new playoff format works.
Setting the table
The Crew enters Decision Day in fourth place in the Eastern Conference with 54 points, 15 wins, and a goal difference of plus-20 (goals scored subtracted by goals conceded). It can finish as high as third and as low as fifth.
As the Crew plays Montreal, six other games in the East will take place simultaneously. The only one that matters is in Foxborough, Massachusetts, where the fifth-place New England Revolution (52 points, 14 wins, +11 GD) hosts the third-place Philadelphia Union (55 points, 15 wins, +17 GD).
How Crew finishes third
For the Crew to hop above the Union and claim the third seed in the East requires a win over Montreal and the New England Revolution to not lose against the Union. That would put Columbus in third with 57 points and give it home-field advantage in a best-of-three series against the sixth-seed.
How Crew remains fourth
If the Philadelphia Union beats the Revolution, the Crew will keep its No. 4 spot for the MLS Cup Playoffs. The Crew would also keep the No. 4 spot if it doesn’t beat Montreal and Philadelphia does not lose to New England. As a four seed, the Crew would still have home-field advantage in the first round in a best-of-three series against the five-seed.
How Crew drops to fifth
The only scenario where the Crew would drop and be guaranteed only one home playoff game is if it loses to Montreal and the Revolution beats the Union.
There is a scenario where the Crew, Union, and Revs are on points if the Crew ties and the Revolution wins. All three would have 55 points and be tied on the first tiebreaker, number of wins, at 15. The order of the three teams would be determined by goal difference, something the Crew leads the Union and Revs on by a significant margin.
Explaining the playoff format
This is the first season when MLS will have 18 teams make the playoffs (nine from each conference) and introduce a mixed format that combines traditional American playoff tropes with international soccer staples.
The eight and nine seeds from each conference will play each other in a single wild card game next week, with the winner advancing to play the top seed. The first round will be the only round that is a best-of-three series, with the higher seed hosting the first game and, if necessary, a decisive third game.
Nov. 12 is scheduled to be the final day of the first round before MLS pauses the playoffs for an international break. On Nov. 25, the playoffs will resume and will shift back to single elimination, with the conference semifinals and conference finals before the MLS Cup will be played on Dec. 9. All games will be hosted by the higher seed.
Who Crew could play in first round
There are only four possible opponents: the Union, Revolution, Atlanta United or Nashville SC. The only team from that group the Crew has not beaten this season is the Union. It has at least one win against the other three. The only other team in the group that the Crew has lost to is Nashville.