The last day of the Major League Soccer season is designed to be the most exciting of the whole year. It’s a day that for most clubs will bring back iconic moments in club history. Orlando City has yet to fully experience the impact of Decision Day.
Having just finished its 23rd season, MLS is a very young league which takes many of its ideas from Europe. The recent addition of developmental teams in the lower leagues is an idea borrowed from Spain, Italy, and Holland. Another aspect that followers of the European leagues will recognize is Decision Day, in which nearly every team in the league plays at the same time on the final day of the season.
In every country in which it is done, Decision Day is full of highs and lows. Teams that are fighting for the Supporters’ Shield, a first-round bye, home field advantage, or a playoff spot must focus on their game and others around the league. One goal in a number of games can change the whole outlook of the season.
This year, there were several games that had major impacts for clubs. The New York Red Bulls and Atlanta United entered the final day with both teams having a shot at the Supporters’ Shield. Even in the second half, both teams had a chance to claim the trophy. In the Western Conference, Real Salt Lake experienced a swing in emotions even though the team didn’t play due to this year’s uneven team numbers. The LA Galaxy went up 2-0 on the Houston Dynamo 30 minutes into the game, which would’ve seen RSL drop below the red line. Then the Dynamo scored three unanswered goals to defeat the hosts, 3-2, pushing the Utah-based club into the playoffs.
Four years into its MLS existence, one club that hasn’t gotten to experience the excitement of Decision Day is Orlando City. While the Lions came close to making the playoffs during the 2015 and 2016 seasons, they had already been eliminated by the final day of the season. The last two seasons, the team wasn’t even close to a playoff spot coming into the final day of the season, forced to attempt to be spoiler to teams that were fighting for spots in the postseason.
In many leagues around the world, nearly every team in the league has something to play for on the final day of the season. The top teams are often fighting for the league championship, while others fight for a spot in one of the continental competitions. Due to the existence of a promotion and relegation system in those countries, even the teams at the bottom of the table have something to play for on the final day.
In MLS, only teams that have a realistic chance of qualifying for the postseason play meaningful games on Decision Day, but more than half of the league is fighting for at least something.
Orlando City’s failure to stay in competition for a playoff spot down the stretch, or even be close the last two seasons, means that the final few games of the season are spent trying to avoid setting new club and league records for futility — not exactly an exciting end to the season for fans.
The fans of many teams in the league had an exhilarating day yesterday, watching their teams fight for something. For Orlando City fans, it was another boring end to another dismal season. Even if the team doesn’t qualify for the playoffs next year, the fans can at least hope for the excitement they missed out on this past weekend.