Galaxy see MLS regular-season finale vs. Houston as a must-win

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

As such, one of the most important questions to answer on the final day of the regular season on Sunday might not be who is playing who, but where they are playing.

Ten of the league’s 14 playoff invites have already been distributed, with LAFC and Galaxy claiming one each. But only five teams are guaranteed to open the postseason at home, a huge advantage in a league where the visitors only win 26% of games.

LAFC secured home field advantage in the playoffs last week when they won their second Supporters’ Shield in four years with a win in Portland. However, The Galaxy flew to Houston on Friday and needed three points to secure another home game this year. Anything less could leave the team struggling through the single-elimination playoffs as bottom of the tournament.

“We want to achieve a good result. Of course we’d like to have the home field advantage,” said Galaxy coach Greg Vanney. “There’s a lot of reasons for us to go out there and really focus with the right mentality and approach this game like it’s a playoff game.”

No matter what happens in Houston, the Galaxy will have one real Playoff game next week, only second in six years. But it hasn’t played a postseason game at Dignity Health Sports Park since 2016, that’s how long the stadium had a different name back then.

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

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

But they lead the three teams below them — Nashville, Portland and Minnesota — by just two points. Win in Houston on Sunday and they’ll come home; a little less and they could drop to seventh place. Even a tie could drop them to sixth place.

“Momentum is valuable in MLS. We’ve been going well in the last few games,” said Vanney. “We just want to be in the right mindset as we work through this weekend and venture into the playoffs.”

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

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

(Raul Romero Jr. / Associated Press)

Six teams are fighting for the remaining four postseason spots, two in each conference. Cincinnati and Columbus are currently above the playoff line in the East, but Orlando City could leapfrog both by beating Columbus. Orlando could also finish seventh, ahead of Cincinnati in the tiebreak, with Cincinnati drawing and losing at DC United.

Philadelphia, Montreal and New York City will start the playoffs at home, but which team will top the table and earn the first-round bye is yet to be determined as Philadelphia leads Montreal by just two points. Union ends the season at home against Toronto while Montreal plays in Miami.

To the west, Real Salt Lake and Vancouver are both below the line, but Salt Lake could come out on top with a win over Portland on Sunday while the Whitecaps could progress with a home win over Minnesota. Aside from LAFC and Austin, no team in the West is guaranteed a home game, meaning Sunday’s results could upset the postseason schedule there as well.

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 win would make them only 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 reunion can also be a bit of a drag, as the team has at least 10 days off before their first postseason game, a hiatus that can throw off a team’s pace at this stage.

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

And finishing top of the conference in the regular season doesn’t always put a team in a position to be successful in the regular season — in fact, it often is the opposite. Only once since 2011 has a team won a Supporters’ Shield and reached the Finals of the MLS Cup in the same season.

“What we have ahead of us is a bigger goal,” said midfielder Ilie Sánchez. “The MLS Cup is going to be so important, especially. We have that in mind.” Galaxy see MLS regular-season finale vs. Houston as a must-win

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