Its quite nice to be in the situation that D.C. United finds itself.
Three of the last four seasons, we spent these weeks sweating with the worry that United would miss out on the playoffs, and ultimately they did. This year is different. This year, rather than debating IF United will make the playoffs, we're debating who we'd like to face in the playoffs.
United could finish anywhere between first and fourth place in the MLS Eastern Conference, and could face any one of three teams. According to Sportsclubstats.com, there's currently a 92% chance that United will finish in either second or third place, with a 3% chance that they pass Sporting Kansas City for first place, and a 16% chance that they'll fall down to fourth and be forced to play an extra game on Oct. 31.
Here's who United could face in their first playoff round:
The likeliest opponent for United is the Fire, who also happen to be our opponent on Saturday at Toyota Park. The Fire have made some big changes this season, waving goodbye to playmakers Marco Pappa and Sebastian Grazzini in favor of designated players Sherjill MacDonald and Alvaro Fernandez, along with the return of Chris Rolfe. The Fire might have the most varied attack of the group, but also have a young and inexperienced back line. In their lone meeting this season, United's attack dominated the Chicago defense by a score of 4-2 at RFK Stadium two months ago.
New York Red Bulls
With a win over the Philadelphia Union on Saturday and a loss or draw by Chicago, the Red Bulls would move into third place and set up an unprecedented fourth and fifth meeting with D.C. The Red Bulls have the highest powered offense in the East, with Thierry Henry, Kenny Cooper, Joel Lindpere, Tim Cahill, and talent to spare. But the Red Bulls also have a Lame Duck Drunk Uncle for a coach and the most unsettled goalkeeper situation of any playoff team. United pummeled the Red Bulls by a score of 4-1 during the high-flying days of April, but the teams have played two very close games since, without either side really emerging as the favorite.
The only way that the Dynamo will visit RFK is if Chicago and New York each win their matches on Saturday. United did defeat the Dynamo the last time they made the trip to D.C., but fell in both visits to BBVA Compass. The Dynamo typically use a 4-3-3 formation that has been a struggle for United to face all year, and they're always good in the playoffs, but there's probably a good reason why they're in fifth place right now. An underwhelming road record might have something to do with it.