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September 19, 2023 - Major League Soccer (MLS) News Release

The Battle for the Wild Card - Eastern Conference

Seven points separate eighth and 14th place in the Eastern Conference as the race for the two Audi 2023 MLS Cup Playoffs Wild Card positions heats up as the season comes down to the wire. The No. 8 and No. 9 seeds will face off in a single-elimination match in the postseason, with the winner advancing to the Round One Best-of-3 series and facing the conference's No. 1 seed. Here's what's at stake for the seven clubs in that race:

First-Year Playoff Success for Losada's Montréal

Sitting in the eighth seed is CF Montréal with 36 points (11-14-3), who are led by head coach Hernán Losada. After a difficult start to 2023, Losada has found consistency from Homegrown players across the field with 22-year-old goalkeeper Jonathan Sirois and midfielder Mathieu Choinière raising their levels and growing into leadership roles for the team.

Rooney Making Good on Preseason Promise

D.C. United currently holds the ninth seed in the Eastern Conference with 35 points (9-12-8) after earning a point at Charlotte FC over the weekend. With five games left on their regular season schedule, though, head coach Wayne Rooney is getting close to keeping his promise to bring D.C. to the playoffs after a last-place finish in 2022 (Watch Rooney's preseason speech).

Fire Look to Extinguish Playoff Drought

Chicago Fire FC are just two points below D.C. in 10th with a game in hand. Both 20-year-old Homegrown midfielder Brian Gutiérrez and 19-year-old Homegrown goalkeeper Chris Brady have been bright spots for the team this season, and the youngsters will be called upon to produce late season magic if the Fire is to ends their five-season playoff drought in 2023.

Charlotte Eyes First Postseason Appearance

MLS sophomores Charlotte FC have their work cut out for them to make their first-ever playoff appearance as they face three of the top-four teams in the East across their next three games. Charlotte is 2-2-2 against the top-four teams from both conferences in 2023, though, and beat the then Eastern Conference-leading Philadelphia Union during their 2022 postseason push.

Keeping Streaks Alive in New York

The New York clubs both hold the two longest active playoff appearance streaks in MLS, with 13th-place New York Red Bulls looking to set a league-record with their 14th consecutive playoff appearance this season. New York City FC, who have qualified for seven straight playoffs, sit in 12th and will look to dash their rival's record while keeping their streak alive.

Martino, Messi, and Miami Magic

The Gerard 'Tata' Martino and Lionel Messi-led Inter Miami CF sit in 14th place through 29 games played and seven points out of the playoffs. However, the team's transformation over the Secondary Transfer Window has them primed for a push to steal a Wild Card spot behind Messi, midfielder Sergio Busquets, Homegrown midfielder Benjamin Cremaschi, and more.

MLS NEXT Pro to Debut "Pick Your Opponent" Playoff Format Following This Weekend's Decision Day

MLS NEXT Pro will debut a new playoff format this year, featuring a unique "pick your opponent" element that will see top seeds choose who they play in the first two rounds. Final seeding for the 2023 MLS NEXT Pro Playoffs will come down to Decision Day this Sunday, but the actual matchups won't be settled until the days following.

With four playoff spots still up for grabs, two in each conference, Decision Day will feature 13 matches, with all but one club (New England Revolution II) playing. The six Eastern Conference matches will kick off at 2:00 p.m. ET, followed by the Western Conference at 5:00 p.m. ET - with all matches airing live on MLS Season Pass on the Apple TV app. In addition to the last two spots in each conference on the line Sunday, so too is the No. 1 overall seed in the league. Crown Legacy FC and Colorado Rapids 2 have previously clinched the top seed in the East and West conferences, respectively, and enter the final day of the regular season with identical records (18-4-5, 63 points). Sunday's results will determine which club would finish with the No. 1 seed and potentially host MLS NEXT Pro Cup on October 22.

Within each conference, the two division champions and the five clubs with the next highest point totals (seven clubs total) advance to the 2023 MLS NEXT Pro Playoffs. The club with the most regular-season points in each conference (No. 1 seed) will earn a first-round (Conference Quarterfinals) bye, automatically advancing to the Conference Semifinals. The next two teams with the most points in each conference (No. 2 and No. 3 seeds) will choose their opponent from seeds No. 4-7. The two remaining teams that are not selected will play each other. In the Conference Semifinals, the team with the most overall points in the conference (No. 1 seed) will choose its opponent from the remaining two lowest-seeded teams. The second-highest seed will host the remaining team.

The No. 2 and No. 3 seeds will make their selections and the matchups will be announced on Tuesday, September 26. The playoffs will consist of three rounds followed by MLS NEXT Pro Cup, taking place over four consecutive weeks beginning the weekend of September 29. All playoff matches and Cup will be broadcast live on MLS Season Pass on the Apple TV app.

LAFC-Union Match Highlights Competition for Conference Crowns

Maintaining status atop your conference is a tough task in MLS, and that has been no different for the Los Angeles Football Club and Philadelphia Union, who finished top of the Western Conference and Eastern Conference, respectively, in 2022 and faced each other in the dramatic 2022 MLS Cup. The two now find themselves battling for postseason seeding with a Matchday 34 fixture against one another on the horizon.

LAFC ranks second in the West with 43 points and sits just six points out from first with a game in hand. The club also made a run to the 2023 Scotiabank Concacaf Champions League Final and the quarterfinals of Leagues Cup 2023 following their MLS Cup triumph at the end of 2022.

Second-year forward Dénis Bouanga has been instrumental to LAFC across all competitions, and his 14 goals in MLS are tied for most in the MLS Golden Boot presented by Audi race. Captain Carlos Vela has nine goals and 10 assists in MLS, and his next MLS goal will make him the fourth player in league annals to record four seasons with at least 10 goals and 10 assists, joining the illustrious company of MLS legends Jaime Moreno, Preki, and Diego Valeri.

The Union holds the fourth and final host playoff seed in the East but are in a six-way battle for those spots with a game in hand. The Union also made a CCL semifinal run prior to being knocked out by LAFC and secured a third-place finish in Leagues Cup 2023 by defeating CF Monterrey.

Forward Julián Carranza and midfielder Dániel Gazdag have 12 goals each in MLS this season, with Gazdag producing his second conseuctive season with at least 10 goals and 10 assists after scoring his league-record 10th penalty-kick goal on Matchday 32.

The Union have yet to record a win over LAFC across all competitions, but they will hope to do so when they host the reigning MLS Cup victors in a championship rematch this Saturday, September 23 (7:30 p.m. ET, MLS Season Pass) for three points that will help either side in the battle for postseason seeding.

By the Numbers

Below is a breakdown of several standout numbers pertaining to active MLS players who have scored at least 10 goals in the race for the 2023 MLS Golden Boot presented by Audi ahead of Matchdays 33 & 34:

2: The Philadelphia Union and Vancouver Whitecaps FC are the only clubs in MLS to have two players score 10 or more regular-season goals, with the Whitecaps represented by Brian White (11) and Ryan Gauld (10) and Julián Carranza and Dániel Gazdag of the Union have scored 12 goals each.

3: The New England Revolution and New York Red Bulls have each had three Golden Boot winners, the most of any clubs in MLS. Just behind them with two each are D.C. United, FC Dallas, LAFC, the San Jose Earthquakes, and Sporting Kansas City.

5: Five players represent nations that have never won the Golden Boot: Atlanta United's Giorgos Giakoumakis (Greece), the Columbus Crew's Juan 'Cucho' Hernández (Colombia), D.C. United's Christian Benteke (Belgium), LAFC's Dénis Bouanga (Gabon), and Gauld (Scotland).

5: FC Cincinnati's Luciano 'Lucho' Acosta (13), Orlando City SC's Facundo Torres (12), the Union's Carranza and Gazdag (12 each), Seattle Sounders FC's Jordan Morris (10), and St. Louis CITY SC's Niko Gioacchini (10) represent clubs that have not had a Golden Boot winner in their MLS histories.

11: The race for the MLS Golden Boot presented by Audi currently features players from 11 different countries with at least 10 goals, with the United States being the most represented nation at four with FC Dallas' Jesús Ferreira, Morris, Gioacchini, and White.

16: There are 16 players with at least 10 goals so far this season, with Bouanga, Giakoumakis, and Nashville SC's Hany Mukhtar leading the Golden Boot race with 14 goals each. Acosta and Sporting Kansas City's Alan Pulido trail one goal behind with 13 each.

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