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D.C. United’s MLS playoff scenarios going into Decision Day

Your guide to the Black-and-Red’s postseason possibilities

D.C. United took a lot of the drama out of MLS’s Decision Day for themselves this past weekend, earning a playoff spot with a 3-1 win over New York City FC. Still, United’s opponent and where their knockout round game will be played is completely up in the air. Depending on their result against the Chicago Fire on Sunday afternoon, the Black-and-Red can finish anywhere from 4th to 6th, facing someone from NYCFC, the Philadelphia Union, or the Columbus Crew.

Here’s a run down of all the scenarios for United:

Fourth place

First of all, note that D.C. cannot finish in 3rd place. Should United beat Chicago and the Union win at Yankee Stadium, D.C., Philadelphia, and NYC would all be on 53 points. However, in MLS total wins are the first tiebreaker, and the Union would have 16 in this case, with DC and NYC having 15.

However, there are two ways United can host a playoff game. If they beat the Fire, they will almost certainly finish 4th. There’s a very extreme case in which this does not happen, but it involves United winning by a goal, and NYCFC losing by a goal, while scoring 5 goals more than United (e.g. if United won 1-0, NYC would have to lose 7-6). If they did this but only scored 4 more goals than United on the day, we’d be looking at the fourth tiebreaker (disciplinary points). MLS hasn’t posted a table for 2018 on their site, but United has picked up far fewer yellow and red cards than the Pigeons.

Barring that preposterous situation, a win means United would finish 4th.

The other way for United to get 4th is to earn a point against Chicago, and have NYCFC beat Philadelphia. Because of the tiebreaker, the Crew can catch United in points in this scenario, but United would still take fourth by having more wins.

Fifth place

United currently sits 5th, and there are two scenarios in which they stay in this position. If United only gets a point against the Fire, then any Union non-loss would leave United stuck in 5th, headed on the road for their knockout game. Philly would have 51 or 53 points, and if both United and the Union have 51, Philadelphia’s win total would give them the edge.

Conversely, if United finish on 50 points, or 51 points but still behind the Union, a Crew loss at home to Minnesota United, coupled with a Montreal Impact win on the road against the New England Revolution, would keep United 5th. There are no scenarios in which United play the Impact in the knockout round game. But a Crew non-win would assure United of at least the 5th spot, no matter how they fare against Chicago.

Sixth place

Only one scenario here, and it’s simple: United would have to lose to the Fire, and the Crew would have to beat Minnesota.

How D.C. United plays NYCFC

United can get a quick rematch at Audi Field against City by finishing 4th in the standings. On the other hand, United could travel to face NYCFC by either finishing 5th or 6th. United failing to win, and Philly winning against Pigeons sends United to the Bronx as the 5th seed, assuming Columbus doesn’t win. Should Columbus jump United, and NYC gets at least a point, United would travel to the same location for a 3rd vs. 6th match.

How D.C. United plays the Union

Again, United can host the Union as the 4th seed, or travel to Chester as the 5th or 6th seed. For United to get a chance at revenge at home against the last team that beat them there, United would need to jump Philly. That’s by either winning against the Fire, and having Philly not beat NYCFC, or by getting a draw against the Fire, and having Philly lose to NYCFC.

On the other hand, United travels to Pennsylvania through a couple of outcomes. A draw from D.C. and Philadelphia would do it. Or, a loss from United, Philly failing to beat NYCFC, and either a Crew non-win or Montreal making the playoffs would send United to Chester as the number 5 seed. For United to make the trip as the 6th seed, the Union and Crew would have to win, while United stumble to a loss in Bridgeview.

How D.C. United play the Crew

Should United jump to the 4th seed, they could also host the Crew on Buzzard Point. That would require United and the Crew both jumping the Union. For that to happen, United would need a win or draw, the Crew would have to win, and the Union would have to lose, which would drop them into 6th place. There are no outcomes which would produce a visit to Mapfre Stadium for the Black-and-Red in the knockout round.

Of their potential knockout round opponents, Columbus is the only team that United has faced in the playoffs previously. United played the Crew in three consecutive years, from 1997 to 1999. The last playoff game between the two came back on November 13th, 1999, as United won 4-0 to take a best-of-three series en route to their third MLS Cup triumph.

Should United advance past the knockout round, their opponent, either Atlanta United or the New York Red Bulls, will be determined at the conclusion of the game between the 3rd and 6th seed. The lowest remaining seed will face the top seed, while the other team will play the 2nd seed.