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Playoff Odds and Magic Numbers: D.C. United vs. Portland Timbers

With only four matches left in the regular season, D.C. United is sitting in a good spot. A win against Portland would make these final few games even better.

Ned Dishman - Getty Images

With only four matches left in the 2012 MLS regular season, D.C. United sit tied for third place in the Eastern Conference with four games remaining. The playoff probabilities created by the fine folks at Sounder at Heart put United's chances of making the playoffs at 90.3%, with a 36.3% chance of making the top three. I think the team's chance of making the top three was even higher than that until Rafa Marquez got hurt, which will force drunk uncle Hans Backe to put Dax McCarty back into the center of midfield, where he is far more effective. The Chicago Fire's official team blog also has magic numbers for MLS: D.C. United needs eight points gained through either wins, draws, or points dropped by the Columbus Crew in order to make the playoffs.

But before all of that, United have to do their duty: a win against the Portland Timbers on the road, while not essential, would go a long way to moving that 90% towards 100%. Ben Olsen has been the most impressive coach in the league over the past weeks, using alchemy to get nine points out of the stone that everyone thought D.C. United was after Dwayne De Rosario got hurt. What combination of elements will Olsen use this week to make gold from lead in Portland?

football formations

This is actually the second lineup I drew up; the original had Maicon Santos as the second forward in place of Lewis Neal. But the one thing that I think I know about Ben Olsen is that he likes to have an impact sub available on his bench. Maicon Santos the impact sub was highly effective two games ago; Maicon Santos the starter looked more like Mike Sanders. I know that Neal and Branko Boskovic have both been that player as well in recent weeks, but my gut tells me that it will be Santos this week. But watch Olsen throw another curveball at all of us and start Hamdi Salihi this week.

Good news out of training tells us that Daniel Woolard has resumed working on the side. While he is not yet back to full fitness, hopefully this means that the worst part of the concussion is now behind him. If he is able to get back onto the field by the end of the season, that could be a difference maker in United's (hopeful) playoff run. Also back at practice after hernia surgery is Stephen King.

With this lineup, the subs would be Joe Willis, Hamdi Salihi, Robbie Russell, Emiliano Dudar, Maicon Santos, Raphael Augusto, and Long Tan. What do you all see happening?