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The Neutral Chronicles: Why October is a surprisingly lonely time of year

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You'd think it would be fun to not hold your head in your hands, but feeling nothing at all is somehow worse.

Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

The last several years, broadly speaking, I've gotten to this time of the year, this point in the MLS season, and essentially thought, "Let's get this over with."

Last year was a bit different, of course, with the reports but lack of confirmation that Chivas USA would be going on hiatus or out of business altogether. So there was a weird desperation, a desire to keep seeing a largely crappy team (who ended up doing pretty well in their final month, it must be said, winning three out of four games) keep playing because they may never come back.

But most years, under normal circumstances, as the regular season winded down and the playoffs passed my team by again, I felt a sense of relief that the string had been played out. Anyone who's followed a bad team has felt that way at least to some extent.

On Sunday, MLS will conclude the regular season with a new format, Decision Day, with all games taking place on the same day and all but one of the Eastern Conference games taking place at the same time, followed by all of the Western Conference games (and the last Eastern Conference game, due to Supporters' Shield implications) taking place simultaneously.

There's only one playoff spot in the East up for grabs still, while half of the field is yet to be confirmed out here in the West, but there's plenty of intrigue and an interesting experiment to see if doing simultaneous kickoffs will become an entertaining tradition in league lore.

And yet, I don't care as a fan.

It's not Decision Day itself -- that sounds pretty interesting. It's that there's no team, in the playoff hunt or out, to follow, maybe one last time with this group of players and staff, maybe one last time before the playoffs really take off and things get cooking.

I'll be honest, I assumed I'd find this time of year to be just as fulfilling as it could be, alongside the rest of the regular season, as a neutral. Watch good soccer, good performances, keep an eye on what's going on around the league from a more reserved position.

But just like when the season kicked off, I feel a real melancholy right now without a team to actively root for, even be exasperated by. The playoff chase is fun, and even when one's team is out of the chase, it is fun to try and screw another team up, or to leave a positive lasting memory before everyone scatters.

It may not be breaking news if you've been reading these dispatches over the course of the season, but having to watch a day that could be full of racing heartbeats and dramatic turns with a neutral eye really sucks the color out of it. Once again, I'd rather root for a good team than a bad team, but I'd rather have any team at all than none.

The supporter depression I feel will pass, and I'll still check out the action on Sunday. But this time of year is meant for fans, not neutrals, and even the pain from bad losses causes emotions that one can look back on with feeling, just as the thrills produce elation and memories that can last decades. It's just not the same for the rest of us.

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