MLS Decision Day: CF Montreal eyes top seed; Whitecaps push for playoffs

CF Montreal have their sights set on the top as they visit Inter Miami to close out the 2022 season on Sunday.

Montreal (19-9-5, 62 points) can claim first place in the Eastern Conference with a win against Miami, combined with a Philadelphia Union loss or draw against Toronto FC.

“I think it’s always good to go for first place. It’s an objective as a group,” Montreal midfielder Ismaël Koné said.

Montreal has been on a roll throughout the season after starting winless (0-3-1) in its first four matches. The Canadian side has been especially hot since mid-July, going 10-1-3 in their last 14 contests after a pair of defeats to the Los Angeles Galaxy and Sporting Kansas City in early July.

Defender Joel Waterman will be available for Montreal on Sunday after he was injured last week while midfielder Djordje Mihailovic returns from a one-game suspension.

Montreal could, however, be without forward Romell Quioto, who suffered a thigh injury while representing Honduras during the international break.

Quioto leads the team with 15 goals while Mihailovic and veteran Kei Kamara are tied for second with eight goals apiece. Goals have been hard to come by for Mihailovic, who has tallied only once in his past 12 games.

Inter Miami (14-13-6, 48 points) head into the match eyeing fourth place in the Eastern Conference table. A win combined with a New York Red Bulls loss or draw would give the Herons the chance to host their first-ever playoff match.

“The mood is incredibly high,” coach Phil Neville said. “We’re in but we’re not done. This is the start, hopefully, of a long successful journey from now to the end of the season. We’re hitting form at just the right time. We’ve got momentum, we’ve got confidence, we’ve got belief, we’ve got the spirit, and we need to keep that going.”

Gonzalo Higuain has 14 goals in his past 15 games, including each of the past five. His next goal would match the longest scoring streak of his career (with Serie A sides Napoli from January to February 2016 and Juventus from December 2016 to January 2017).

Miami has won 10 of its past 13 home games.

Whitecaps within reach of playoffs

The Vancouver Whitecaps and Minnesota United are sharing the same battle cry as they head into their Decision Day showdown on Sunday in Saint Paul, Minn.

“Win and in.”

The teams head into their season-finale needing to garner points if they are to qualify for the MLS Cup playoffs. Minnesota United (13-14-6, 45 points), who begins the weekend clinging to the seventh and final playoff spot in the Western Conference, can also qualify with a draw, but the ninth-place Whitecaps (12-14-7, 43 points) need a victory to reach the postseason.

Adding intrigue is the fact that the sixth-place Portland Timbers (11-9-13, 46 points) and eighth-place Real Salt Lake (11-11-11, 44 points) kick off at the same time.

Vancouver has made a late surge for a playoff spot with an impressive three-game winning streak that includes wins over Austin FC, Seattle and the LA Galaxy.

“We are in a position that we were dreaming of a few weeks ago,” Vancouver coach Vanni Sartini told the Extratime podcast. “We were very good, we were also a little lucky because of the results. So now we need to do the last step. We see the peak of the mountain. We have to do the hardest part.”

Scottish midfielder Ryan Gauld has led the way for the Whitecaps with two goals and two assists over the three-game win streak. Gauld leads the team in scoring with eight goals and nine assists while forward Lucas Cavallini leads the team in goals with nine.

Minnesota United won the first meeting with the Whitecaps in Vancouver, 3-1, on July 8, scoring three goals over a 17-minute span late in the second half. That was during an impressive 8-1-2 run over an 11-game span for the Loons.

Vancouver Whitecaps FC midfielder Ryan Gauld celebrates his goal during a 2-0 win against Austin FC in Vancouver on Saturday. (Anne-Marie Sorvin/USA Today Sports)

However, Minnesota, plagued by injuries to star midfielders Emanuel Reynoso (10 goals, six assists) and Robin Lod (six goals), sputtered to the finish line going just 0-5-1 over its last six games, including a 2-0 loss at last-place San Jose last Saturday.

The Loons, who still have an outside chance of finishing in the top four and hosting a first-round playoff game with a victory, have been outscored 14-2 during the stretch.

Reynoso, sidelined for a 4-1 loss to Sporting Kansas City with a right ankle injury, returned for the San Jose loss but failed to score on seven shots. Lod, a Finnish national who has missed the last two games with a calf injury, returned to full training on Friday and is expected to play.

“He’s a really important piece for us wherever we play him,” Minnesota United coach Adrian Heath said of Lod. “He has been an invaluable player for us all season. We need him certainly.”

TFC plagued by injuries

Toronto FC will be without at least four starters, including Italians Lorenzo Insigne and Domenico Criscito, for Sunday’s MLS regular-season finale at the Philadelphia Union.

Insigne and Criscito are both out with lower body injuries, according to the team’s injury report released Saturday. Midfielder Jonathan Osorio (neurological dysfunction) and suspended fullback Richie Laryea are also unavailable.

Italian winger Federico Bernardeschi (lower body) is listed as questionable. Midfielder Kosi Thompson is out with a lower back injury.

Toronto coach Bob Bradley said Friday that all three Italians were question-marks for the game.

“All carrying little things,” he said, without detailing the injuries. “It fits with the challenges that go with players coming when they did (mid-season), now being in a first MLS season and experiencing some of the different characteristics of MLS in travel and all that kind of stuff.”

Osorio has played just 18 minutes since a 2-1 loss Aug. 20 at Inter Miami. The veteran Canadian has been dealing with the consequences of an elbow to the head in a July 13 game at Chicago.

Toronto (9-18-7) was eliminated from post-season contention Sept. 17 in a 4-0 loss to Orlando City SC. TFC has been outscored 13-5 in losing its last four games.

Philadelphia (18-5-10) sits atop the Eastern Conference, two points ahead of CF Montreal (19-9-5) which finishes out the season Sunday at Inter Miami (14-13-6).

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