2012 MLS Playoffs: What's at Stake for D.C. United down the Stretch?

WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 15: Chris Pontius #13 of D.C. United celebrates after his goal with Branko Boskovic #8 against # of the New England Revolution at RFK Stadium on September 15, 2012 in Washington, DC.(Photo by Ned Dishman/Getty Images)

There is a tight struggle in the Eastern Conference for playoff spots. With every playoff seed still in play for D.C. United, what's at stake for the team down the stretch? A secret team memo reveals...

The following internal D.C. United memo that is totally fake was emailed out to media members on Monday by the club's media relations team. It appears to have been inadvertently attached to the D.C. United vs. Chivas USA match recap.

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From: Kurt Morsink, Scouting Coordinator

To: Ben Olsen; Kevin Payne

Subject: 2012 MLS Playoffs

Great game on Sunday night. Nothing makes a team feel better about itself than a three-game winning streak. And we certainly feel much better about ourselves after the last week, even with Dwayne De Rosario out.

As I mentioned to you at the stadium yesterday, Black and Red United wrote about this year's new Major League Soccer playoff format the other day. Although making the playoffs is our No. 1 goal this year, I know we haven't had much time to think about specific playoff seeding. As we prepare for the final four games of the regular season, however, I think it's now time to review for you what we are playing for down the stretch. To start, here's where we currently sit in the Eastern Conference table.

Playoff Seed Team Points Games Played Avg Pts/Game
#1 Sporting Kansas City 55 30 1.83
#2 Chicago Fire 53 29 1.83
#3 New York Red Bulls 50 30 1.67
#4 D.C. United 50 30 1.67
#5 Houston Dynamo 46 30 1.53
Columbus Crew 45 30 1.50
Montreal Impact 40 31 1.29
Philadelphia Union 30 28 1.07
New England Revs 29 30 0.97
Toronto FC 22 30 0.73

It's a given that you, Ben, won't be happy until we have clinched a playoff spot, but I've listed below the pros and cons for D.C. United of qualifying in the various playoff seeds. Perhaps this will help motivate the team for the final push...

#5 Seed:

- Pros: It was close, but we achieved our season's goal of making the playoffs! There's not much more that's positive about being the last team to make the playoffs, but don't lose sight of the fact that even if we end up as the No. 5 seed, we achieved our top goal for the year. Oh yeah, one other small positive is the No. 4 seeded team that we will face in the play-in match is likely very evenly matched with us (if we didn't have to play at their place).

- Cons: We have to go on the road for the play-in match, and we've been really bad on the road. If we don't take care of business in the play-in match, our home fans won't get to see us play in the playoffs which may hamper attendance momentum heading into next season. As a reminder, here is our road record so far this season against the other Eastern Conference playoff contenders (0-5-0, -8 Goal Diff, one game left to play).

Away Wins Away Losses Away Ties Goal Diff Notes
D.C. United at Sporting Kansas City 0 1 0 -1
D.C. United at Chicago Fire 0 0 0 0 Away game on 27 Oct
D.C. United at New York Red Bulls 0 1 0 -1
D.C. United at Houston Dynamo 0 2 0 -5
D.C. United at Columbus Crew 0 1 0 -1
Total 0 5 0 -8

#4 Seed:

- Pros: We made the playoffs, and we get to host the play-in match! We've made RFK a fortress again this year, so we have the chance to build momentum in a big way by winning the play-in match and moving on to the Conference Semifinals where we will host the first leg in the Semifinal Series against the No. 1 seed. Back-to-back home playoff matches would be a great way to start our MLS Cup run, and to set the stage for a great 2013 campaign both on the field and at the ticket booth. For reference, I've included our home record against the other Eastern playoff contenders below, and it is very strong (4-1-1, +6 Goal Diff, one game left to play).

- Cons: As good as we've been at home, we have to play a one-game knockout match to open the playoffs. If we don't show up for that game, it could be a short-lived playoff appearance, even at home. If we win the playoff match, we have to face the best team in the Eastern Conference in the Semifinals. And, we have to go to their stadium for the final leg of the series.

Home Wins Home Losses Home Ties Goal Diff Notes
D.C. United vs. Sporting Kansas City 0 1 0 -1
D.C. United vs. Chicago Fire 1 0 0 2
D.C. United vs. New York Red Bulls 1 0 1 3
D.C. United vs. Houston Dynamo 1 0 0 1
D.C. United vs. Columbus Crew 1 0 0 1 Home game on 20 Oct
Total 4 1 1 6

#3 Seed:

- Pros: We made the playoffs, and we don't have to compete in the play-in match, so we get a little extra rest! We are guaranteed two playoff games in the Conference Semifinals, one of which will be at RFK. And, we don't have to face the No. 1 seed until the Conference Finals (assuming they win their Semifinal Series). When we face the No. 2 seed in the Semifinals, we are likely facing a team pretty evenly matched with ourselves. I've included below our aggregate goal totals and the season record against the other playoff contenders this season (I've ignored the strange "third games" we've played against some of these teams, and only used the first home game for each team against the other since that mirrors what the Semifinals will look like). BTW, we are 1-1-2 for these series, with the Chicago series to be decided on 27 Oct (but we are up 4-2 based on the first game!).

- Cons: We have to go on the road against the No. 2 seed for the final leg of the series.

Wins Losses Ties Aggregate Score Notes
D.C. United vs. Sporting Kansas City 0 2 0 0-2
D.C. United vs. Chicago Fire 1 0 0 4-2 Second leg on 27 Oct
D.C. United vs. New York Red Bulls 1 1 0 6-4
D.C. United vs. Houston Dynamo 1 1 0 3-3
D.C. United vs. Columbus Crew 1 1 0 1-1
Total 4 5 0 14-12

#2 Seed:

- Pros: Like the pros for the No. 3 seed above, we get to avoid the play-in match, and we are guaranteed two playoff games. We also won't face the No. 1 seed in the Semifinals, and we get to host the final leg in our Semifinal Series against the No. 3 seed. That will be a big game at RFK with a place in the Conference Final on the line. And, we will have the advantage in the second leg of knowing what we need to do on our home field to advance to the Finals based on the score of the first leg.

- Cons: We open our playoffs on the road against the No. 3 seed. We will need to stay composed given our season-long bad road play and keep the score manageable so that we have a reasonable chance in the second leg of the Semifinals at RFK.

#1 Seed:

- Pros: We've surprisingly won the Eastern Conference regular season championship! We get to play the lowest seed remaining in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, and we get to host the second leg of the series at RFK. We almost certainly haven't won the Supporters Shield, however, due to the San Jose Earthquakes' outstanding record this year, but we have a chance of hosting MLS Cup 2012 since we currently have more points than every Western Conference team other than the Quakes. We just need to win the East and have San Jose get bumped off in the West (easy, huh?).

- Cons: If we've made it to the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference, we've shocked the league (and perhaps ourselves) with gritty play and good luck since DeRo went down with an injury. Don't be over-confident when we take on the lowest-seeded team left in the Eastern Conference Semifinal, however. We are a much improved team from the 2011 club, and we are entertaining, but we aren't world beaters yet (but that could be coming in 2013 if some of the players I've found on my scouting trips pan out...).

Fail to make the playoffs:

It should go without saying, but failure to make the playoffs would be a disaster. With attendance at historic lows this year, and coming into this season not having made the playoffs since 2007, we just can't afford to be on the outside of the playoffs looking in again this year. While simply making the playoffs this year is the goal, it would be really, really helpful if we could get at least one home playoff match.

Finally, if the playoffs started today, we (No. 4 seed) would host the Houston Dynamo (No. 5) in the play-in match for the right to face Sporting Kansas City (No. 1) in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. The other Semifinal series would be the New York Red Bulls (No. 3) vs. the Chicago Fire (No. 2). In the Western Conference, the Vancouver Whitecaps (No. 5) would be at the Seattle Sounders (No. 4) in the play-in match, with the winner to face the San Jose Earthquakes (No. 1) in the Semifinals. The other Semifinal would be Real Salt Lake (No. 3) vs. the LA Galaxy (No. 2).

All in all, the team has done well this year. But it's time to close the deal. On the road at the Portland Timbers will be tough, but this is a match we can get a result in. You should already have my scouting report on the Timbers, so let me know if you have any questions.

Vamos United!

Kurt

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Where do you see D.C. United ending up in the table? If we make the playoffs, what's in store for us?

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