Red Bulls win Shield, no playoffs for Zlatan: How MLS Decision Day went down

There will be no playoffs for the LA Galaxy and Zlatan Ibrahimovic following Sunday’s loss to the Houston Dynamo. (Omnisport)
There will be no playoffs for the LA Galaxy and Zlatan Ibrahimovic following Sunday’s loss to the Houston Dynamo. (Omnisport)

There was no shortage of drama on Decision Day, as Major League Soccer crowned its regular season champion and determined the field for the MLS Cup Playoffs.

Here’s how it all shook out over the course of two hours, with 11 matches played simultaneously on Sunday afternoon:

Galaxy, Ibrahimovic miss playoffs

The LA Galaxy’s late-season surge looked like it would continue with a win and a postseason berth when Norwegian striker Ola Kamara scored twice in the first half against the already-eliminated Houston Dynamo. But the Dynamo had other ideas, tallying three times in the final 45 minutes to eliminate the Galaxy, which fired coach Sigi Schmid and replaced him with interim boss (and former Houston manager) Dom Kinnear over the summer. Mauro Manotas’ go-ahead strike in the 79th minute effectively doomed the home side, which missed the postseason for the second consecutive year:

Superstar Galaxy forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic finished his first MLS season with 22 goals. Yet he couldn’t get on the score sheet when his team needed him most, managing just one shot on target on Sunday in what could be his final game in the league. Ibrahimovic is under contract with LA for 2019, but has been linked with other clubs including Real Madrid and Sweden’s Malmo, where the 37-year-began his glittering career.

Red Bulls leapfrog Atlanta to win Supporters’ Shield

The New York Red Bulls captured their third regular-season crown in the last six years thanks to a 1-0 victory over Orlando City that, combined with Atlanta United’s 4-1 loss at Toronto FC, vaulted them into the top spot. Derrick Etienne Jr. scored the winner for the Red Bulls, his individual effort making up for his earlier miss from the penalty spot:

Atlanta, which announced last week that coach Tata Martino would not return next season, came into the final weekend narrowly leading the Supporters’ Shield race, but Toronto FC was never going to go quietly on Sunday. Not with United trying to break the single-season points record TFC set last year en route to MLS Cup, and not with the defending champs desperate to salvage some pride after the embarrassment of missing the playoffs this season.

Instead of Atlanta, it was the Red Bulls who set a new mark with 71 points. The record is even more impressive given that New York, which also won the regular season title in 2013 and 2015, switched coaches midseason, with Chris Armas taking over when Jesse Marsch left in July to join the staff at German Bundesliga club RB Leipzig. And it makes the Red Bulls the deserved favorite to win their first MLS Cup. Should New York make it to the title match, it would be played Dec. 8 at Red Bull Arena.

Derrick Etienne Jr.’s goal helped the Red Bulls beat Orlando and, combined with Atlanta’s loss, win the 2018 Supporters’ Shield. (Yahoo)
Derrick Etienne Jr.’s goal helped the Red Bulls beat Orlando and, combined with Atlanta’s loss, win the 2018 Supporters’ Shield. (Yahoo)

Meantime, the only consolation for the visitors was that Josef Martinez scored for the first time since September, finishing the season with a record 31 goals.

Sporting Kansas City beats expansion LAFC to win the West

First-year side Los Angeles FC couldn’t find the win it needed in Kansas City to overtake Sporting and win the Western Conference title in its maiden season. Veteran SKC midfielder Roger Espinoza gave the hosts the lead on a rocket of a shot shortly before halftime:

Mexican World Cup standout Carlos Vela would equalize for LAFC in the second half but Sporting was the better team, and they got the result they deserved after Daniel Salloi put Peter Vermes’ team up for good with about 20 minutes to play.

Crew, Berhalter breathe sigh of relief

The Crew and Minnesota United had barely broken a sweat before a lightning storm forced both teams from the Mapfre Stadium field for an extended weather delay after just 10 minutes of play. Shortly after the match resumed over an hour later, the New England Revolution beat the Montreal Impact on Diego Fagundez’s 74th-minute goal. That ensured that the Canadians couldn’t overtake Columbus for the East’s final playoff berth no matter the outcome between the Crew and United. Columbus eventually won the match 3-2, with Gyasi Zardes netting a hat trick for the Black and Gold.

That has to be a relief not only to Crew fans, who recently celebrated news that their team was likely to remain in Ohio rather than relocate to Austin, Texas, but also to head coach Gregg Berhalter and U.S. men’s national team general manager Earnie Stewart. Berhalter is expected to be named the new boss of the USMNT next month, and missing the playoffs would’ve been a disaster for all involved.

Bayern-bound Davies leaves MLS in style

Teenage sensation Alphonso Davies celebrated his final game for the Vancouver Whitecaps by scoring both goals in his team’s 2-1 victory over the Portland Timbers.

Afterward the 17-year-old Canadian international, who is headed to German champion Bayern Munich in January, was given a standing ovation by the Whitecaps faithful:

Playoff matchups locked in

The postseason kicks off midweek with four knockout matches. LAFC, which fell to third in the West when the Seattle Sounders beat the San Jose Earthquakes on Sunday, will host No. 6 Real Salt Lake, the only MLS team not in action on the season’s last day. Fifth-place Portland will travel to FC Dallas for the West’s other one-and-done contest.

In the East, Wayne Rooney and fourth-place D.C. United will host the Crew, while No. 3 New York City welcomes the Philadelphia Union to Yankee Stadium.

The Red Bulls, Atlanta, Sporting and Seattle each received a first-round bye.

Doug McIntyre covers soccer for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter @ByDougMcIntyre.

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