The scriptwriters knew what they were doing when they schedules two midweek games between four Eastern Conference teams vying to make the playoffs just a few days before Decision Day. It’s good drama as far as a Wednesday night in MLS goes.
First, we have Charlotte FC hosting Columbus Crew at 7 pm ET. Charlotte’s playoff hopes are hanging by a thread, and they need to win both this game and the next if they are to sneak into the postseason.
Next, we have Inter Miami hosting Orlando City at 8 pm ET. Miami have been one of the most imposing MLS teams in recent weeks, and the late-season surge of Gonzalo Híguain, aka The Most Interesting
Benchwarmer Striker in the World, could lift the team into the playoffs for the first time in club history.
Why should NYCFC fans care?
There’s a good chance that New York City will face one of these teams in the first round of the 2022 MLS Cup Playoffs at Red Bull Arena, and the curious ones among us will watch the games to scout the competition.
But anybody with an NYCFC pulse should hope that tonight’s matchups are bloody, bruising, and exhausting for all those involved. Pray for physical games that will deplete the players and frustrate the coaches.
Neither of tonight’s games will determine the final order of the Eastern Conference, but if Miami, Orlando, or Columbus get a result they’ll carry an advantage into Decision Day. It’s more dire for Charlotte: If they lose, they’re out.
In other words, all four of these teams have a lot on the line tonight, and will be playing their best Staring XI on short rest. Even better for NYCFC, they’ll do it again four days later.
Inter Miami vs Orlando City
While a win for either team won’t guarantee a playoff spot, it will put them on the cusp of securing a postseason berth — and leapfrog Cincinnati into fifth place on the table. Oddly enough, a draw will let both of them jump ahead of Cincinnati because of their win records.
Best-case scenario for NYCFC: Orlando win, climb over Cincinnati into fifth place, and threaten to overtake New Jersey Red Bulls with another win on Decision Day. Bonus: A Miami loss will force them to go all-in when they play CF Montréal on Sunday.
Charlotte FC vs Columbus Crew
It's a must-win game for Charlotte, who need six points from their final two games if they hope to make the playoffs. Charlotte are flying high after a three-game winning streak was capped by a 4-0 humiliation of Philadelphia Union over the weekend. It’s no small accomplishment to hand the Eastern Conference leaders their most humiliating loss of the season.
Columbus are even with Orlando and Miami on points but trail both in wins: The Crew need to take more points than at least one of those teams to make the playoffs.
Best-case scenario for NYCFC: Charlotte win, and keep the Eastern Conference messy. Charlotte face New Jersey Red Bulls on Decision Day, and a hungry Charlotte could further diminish the self-esteem of our frenemies by sending them to a third consecutive loss. Bonus: It puts Columbus into a do-or-die situation when they play Orlando on Decision Day.
What about FC Cincinnati?
The Boys from Porkopolis currently sit in fifth place, but they will fall down the table after tonight’s games are concluded. How far depends on the results. If Columbus win, they will overtake Cincinnati. Ditto if Miami or Orlando win. If Miami and Orlando draw, then both teams will overtake Cincinnati because of win records.
One possible scenario: If Miami and Orlando draw, and if Columbus win, then Cincinnati will fall to eighth place and below the postseason cutoff. No matter what happens, Cincinnati will be playing for their lives when they take the field against DC United on Decision Day.
Best-case scenario for NYCFC: Any result will push Cincinnati down the table, and threaten to knock them out of the playoffs if they don’t get a result on Decision Day.
What about New Jersey Red Bulls?
The Red Bulls might have clinched a playoff spot before they took the field at Yankee Stadium way back in mid-September – and were comprehensively outplayed by NYCFC a few days later – but two consecutive losses have made their playoff position less than crystal clear.
While they can’t be knocked out of the playoffs, they could creep down the table if they don’t get a result against Charlotte on Decision Day, and Miami, Orlando, or Columbus win both of their remaining games.
The wildest scenario has Orlando winning twice, and Columbus winning twice, and New Jersey losing — in which case the Red Bulls will fall to sixth place and face an NYCFC playing at “home” in
Red Bull Arena a venue to be named Pratt and Whitney Stadium in East Hartford, CT.
Best-case scenario for NYCFC: New Jersey lose to Charlotte and are pushed down to fifth place by Orlando, which means that can't be overtaken by Miami or Columbus. In that case, the Red Bulls will lose their home-field advantage and play Orlando in the first round of the MLS Cup Playoffs at Exploria Stadium.