TUKWILA — In a way, Brad Evans was part of Major League Soccer’s ho-hum era.
“The last day didn’t really mean much,” he said of past Sounders FC regular-season closers.
A shift began toward the end of Evans’ 12-year career as he retired in 2017 as a two-time league champion. Playoff rounds were two-game, aggregate-scoring series where each team got a home game, dulling the importance of seeding.
When Evans dropped by the Sounders’ training at Starfire Sports on Wednesday, he could feel the change. MLS injected drama this season by unveiling a one-game, loser-out postseason format, and the top-four teams earn at least one home game.
Now the final day of the regular season, dubbed “Decision Day,” is filled with intrigue. For the Sounders, the finale against Minnesota United on Sunday is like a soap opera, telenovela and reality show balled into one.
To be decided are four seeds that will host a round-one match and two playoff spots. Various outcomes could place the Sounders second in the Western Conference or drop them to fifth — playing away to open the postseason after going 5-8-4 on the road this season.
“That one-game playoff is probably the most intense game I’ve ever played in,” said Evans of the 2016 season when the Sounders went from last place in July to winning the MLS Cup in December.
“That’s what you want to see out of this game,” Evans continued. “For me, it’s the one-off, you’re-dead-or-you-go-on games. Somehow they (MLS) scheduled these games, and it came to fruition.”
MLS began “Decision Day” in 2015, first having all the Eastern Conference teams kickoff at once and the Western Conference teams start simultaneously in a different time slot. Later, all of the games kicked off at the same time — 1 p.m. on Sunday.
“You’re scoreboard watching and everything else,” said Jonathan Tannenwald, who’s covered the Union for the Inquirer since its inception in 2010. “Inevitably something that nobody expects will happen, which is the great thing about it.”
Last year, it was the Los Angeles Galaxy losing to Houston. The Dynamo was already eliminated from playoff contention but scored three goals in the second half to end L.A.’s playoff plans.
Watching from home was Real Salt Lake, the idle team on “Decision Day” due to an odd number of teams. It advanced because of the Galaxy’s loss.
This season, all 24 MLS clubs have a match Sunday. Los Angeles FC (20-4-9, 69 points) has already won the league’s Supporters’ Shield and No. 1 overall seed, which includes a first-round bye.
The easiest scenario for the Sounders (15-10-8, 53 points) is beating Minnesota for the second seed in the West, guaranteeing homefield advantage through the conference semifinals. The Sounders are 10-2-4 at CenturyLink Field this season.
The game features the return of Sounders legend Ozzie Alonzo, who signed with Minnesota at the end of last season. And it’s unknown if the Sounders will be without star midfielder Nico Lodeiro, who missed the Sounders’ last two matches because of a lower-back injury.
“As a coach, there’s the same nervousness and excitement that I felt as a player before the last game of the year,” said Sounders assistant Gonzalo Pineda, who also played for the club. “This is great because we are in control and the players know that.”
The “Decision Day” schedule mimics numerous leagues across the globe. A big difference for MLS is the playoff to determine a champion.
Other leagues use the season’s slate of matches to count points toward the championship, sometimes creating drama like the 2012 finish in the English Premier League.
Manchester City needed a win against Queens Park Rangers to complete an unlikely comeback in the standings to overtake Manchester United for the EPL crown. City scored two goals in its stoppage time to win 3-2 and swipe the title — a first in 44 years.
In 2014, the Sounders had a similar finish for the MLS Shield.
Seattle hosted the LA Galaxy and the winner took the regular-season title. Sounders midfielder Marco Pappa scored two goals, including one in stoppage time, as the Sounders won 2-0 and claimed the Shield.
Pacing her hotel for a Wi-Fi connection to follow the match in Pappa’s native Guatemala was Sounders’ season-ticket holder Laurie Biethan. She traveled to the country for volunteer service.
“I did a fist pump and people stared at me,” Biethan said. “I like (Decision Day) because it just makes everything more dramatic.”