Galaxy sees MLS regular season finale against Houston as a must win

In Major League Soccer, there really is no place like home. This is especially true in the playoffs.

As a result, among the most important questions to be answered on Sunday’s final day of the regular season may not be who’s playing whom, but rather where they’re playing.

Ten of the league’s 14 playoff invites have already been handed out, with LAFC and Galaxy each claiming one. But only five teams are guaranteed to open the playoffs at home, a major advantage in a league where the visitors have won just 26% of the time.

LAFC clinched home-court advantage throughout the playoffs last week when it earned its second Supporters’ Shield in four years with a win at Portland. The Galaxy, however, flew to Houston on Friday, needing three points to secure another home date this year; anything less than that could leave the team facing a rocky road through the playoffs as the tournament’s lowest seed.

“We want to get a good result. We would definitely like to have the home advantage,” Galaxy coach Greg Vanney said. “There are a lot of reasons for us to go out and really focus with the right mentality and approach this game as if it were a playoff game.

No matter what happens in Houston, the Galaxy will have a real playoff game next week, just his second in six years. But he hasn’t played a post-season game at Dignity Health Sports Park since 2016, so long ago the stadium had a different name then.

“There is still a lot of work to do,” said midfielder Mark Delgado. “We want to have those playoff games at home for our fans, our confidence. To hold it [there] would be special for everyone.

In MLS, the top seven teams from each 14-team conference advance to the playoffs, with the regular-season conference champions earning a first-round bye and the next three teams opening at home. The Galaxy (13-12-8) entered the weekend fourth and they got there by being one of the hottest teams in the league in the streak, losing just one of their last 10. .

But they lead the three teams below them – Nashville, Portland and Minnesota – by just two points. Win Sunday in Houston and they come home; anything less and they could fall all the way to seventh place. Even a draw could drop them to sixth place.

“Momentum is precious in MLS. We’ve been on a good streak over the last series of games,” Vanney said. “We just want to be in the right frame of mind as we work this weekend and venture into the playoffs.”

Galaxy midfielder Mark Delgado, center right, shoots in a tie against the Seattle Sounders on August 19.

(Raul Romero Jr./Associated Press)

There are six teams battling for the remaining four playoff spots, two in each conference. Cincinnati and Columbus are currently above the playoff line in the East, but Orlando City could jump over both by beating Columbus. Orlando could also finish seventh, ahead of Cincinnati on a tiebreaker, with Cincinnati drawing and losing to DC United.

Philadelphia, Montreal and New York will start the playoffs at home, but which team will finish top of the standings and earn the first-round bye has not been determined since Philadelphia leads Montreal by just two points. The Union ends the season at home against Toronto while Montreal plays in Miami.

In the West, Real Salt Lake and Vancouver are both under the line, but Salt Lake could earn their way by beating Portland on Sunday while the Whitecaps could advance with a home win over Minnesota. Aside from LAFC and Austin, no team in the West is guaranteed a home opener, which means Sunday’s results could also scramble the playoff schedule.

LAFC (21-8-4), meanwhile, faces a different challenge. The team can’t improve their position no matter what they do on Sunday, although a victory would make them the third team in the modern era to win 22 games and the third to finish with at least 70 points.

But the first-round playoff exemption can also be a bit of a burden, as the team will have at least 10 days off before its first postseason game, a break that can disrupt a team’s tempo. at this stage.

“This bye week is a blessing and a curse in a way because you don’t have that extra game,” said midfielder Kellyn Acosta.

And finishing atop the conference in the regular season doesn’t always set a team up for regular season success — in fact, it’s often the opposite. Only once since 2011 has a team won a Supporters’ Shield and reached the MLS Cup Final in the same season.

“What we have in front of us is a bigger goal,” said midfielder Ilie Sánchez. “The MLS Cup is going to be so important, special. That’s what we have in mind.”