When MLS announced in the off-season that it would play all of its final regular season matches on one day, the anticipation grew that the chase for the 2015 MLS Cup Playoffs could be a very exciting event. Given the name "Decision Day," the league's two conferences will play their games concurrently in an effort to not render a single game irrelevant.
For the Eastern Conference, that means a simultaneous 2:00 p.m. Pacific time kick off for four of the five matches on the docket -- the fifth, between New York Red Bulls and Chicago Fire, has been moved to start along with the West. Only the New England Revolution and Orlando City SC do not know their postseason fate, and the current top-five in the conference are playing for playoff seedings.
Meanwhile, in the Western Conference, only three postseason berths have been decided, and four teams still are mathematically alive, including the seventh place San Jose Earthquakes. FC Dallas, the Quakes opponent on Sunday, is playing for the Supporters' Shield, along with the Red Bulls -- thus the time change for that match -- as part of the grouped 4:00 p.m. Pacific time kick-offs.
"We can't just focus on our game," said head coach Dominic Kinnear. "We have to have an eye on what is happening around us too."
The Earthquakes, along with the Portland Timbers, Seattle Sounders, and Sporting Kansas City, are battling for three playoff spots in the West. San Jose would be the odd team out if all four are able to find victories as part of Decision Day, but the Quakes could also sneak into the playoffs with just a draw as long as Sporting lose at home to the LA Galaxy. The certainty of the scenarios, but the uncertainty of the outcomes, will require Kinnear and his coaching staff to keep close tabs on the other games around the West.
"We will know what's going on," said Kinnear. "Obviously, if we have to make a crazy substitution to try and get a goal, if that would be the case, then yes. It would be silly if we just kept playing the game and have no idea of what is going on.
"You're almost hoping for those 360 minutes -- including the three other games and ours -- you've got to be proactive, and it's important that we do that."
The desperation the Quakes could be feeling to get a win, coupled with FC Dallas possibly playing to win its first-ever Supporters' Shield brings added spice to Sunday's game. The potential to pull off the upset in Frisco, Texas and still not make the playoffs lends the affair even more intrigue, something that leading scorer Chris Wondolowski hopes to block from his mind so that he can focus on the task of winning.
"We know we have to take care of our business," said Wondolowski. "Otherwise, it's a moot point and won't matter. If after 90 minutes we have 3 points, we'll check the other scores and hope that we get in."
And not controlling their own fate is something that the Earthquakes know they can do nothing about. Instead, they will make the game in front of them, on the expansive pitch at Toyota Stadium, the one they do try to control. After that, it's simply out of their hands.
"You'd like to be walking off the field knowing that if the other teams have done their jobs, then you shrug your shoulders knowing you've done as best you could," said Kinnear. "To step on the field and hope for other results is a bad idea."