D.C. United heads into Decision Day in a promising position. They’re in 4th place in the Eastern Conference, and with MLS’s new playoff rules, 4th place guarantees a one-off home playoff game. And sure, United currently has the second-worst home record of any playoff team (only the Portland Timbers are worse), but the reality is that all of soccer history says that when your season is on the line, it’s better to be at home.
United’s position remains tenuous, though, with the New York Red Bulls lurking just one point back, and Toronto FC within two points. A slip-up on Sunday would open the door for one or both of them to jump United, sending the Black-and-Red on the road for at least one round of the postseason (and, most likely, for the entire length of their playoff run).
Let’s take a look at the standings:
Eastern Conference Standings
|Position||Team||Points||Wins||Goal difference||Goals scored|
|Position||Team||Points||Wins||Goal difference||Goals scored|
|5||NY Red Bulls||48||14||5||53|
|7||New England Revolution||45||11||-5||49|
Remember the order of the tiebreakers after points: Games won, goal difference, and goals scored are the top three. Fortunately for us, it’s almost impossible that this ends up going to disciplinary points, away goal difference, or away goals scored, but they’re next on the list.
With all that in mind, let’s go over all the possibilities facing the very good boys from D.C. and the no-good jerks that make up the rest of the East:
D.C. United wins
This is easy. If United wins, they host a playoff game on either 10/19 or 10/20. The only issue is who the opponent would be. If the New York Red Bulls win at Montreal on Sunday, it’ll be another installment of the league’s oldest rivalry. If they draw or lose, however, it could be Toronto FC instead. The Reds host Columbus on Decision Day, and the only way they can leapfrog the Red Bulls is to beat the Crew.
A scenario in which NYRB loses and TFC draws would leave both teams tied on 48 points, but the Red Bulls have an insurmountable lead on the first tiebreaker (14 games won to TFC’s 12).
There’s no way for Toronto to finish 5th without winning their final game, so the short version here is that if United wins and TFC doesn’t, it’ll be D.C. vs. NYRB on Buzzard Point.
Also, as an aside, if United can’t win a home game over FC Cincinnati at this point in the season...yikes.
D.C. United ties or loses, Red Bulls and TFC both win
This scenario would drop the Black-and-Red into 6th place. NYRB would leapfrog United into 4th, and Toronto’s win would draw them level with DCU on points and wins. Both teams are +4 right now, so a TFC win and a United draw would require the Reds to finish ahead on that tiebreaker. A loss would leave United behind both teams on points, so it’s the same outcome either way.
Should this come to pass, United’s opponent would be either the Philadelphia Union or Atlanta United. Both teams are on 55 points, with Atlanta ahead on the games won tiebreaker. The Five (but really more than that now, this nickname is invalid) Stripes host New England, while Philly is at home against NYCFC. If both teams have the same result, the 6th place team will head to Chester to take on the Union. If their results don’t match, the host of the 3v6 game would be whichever team has a lesser outcome on Sunday.
Given United’s recent results against the Union (a 5-1 blowout loss at home, and a 3-1 loss away that might as well have been 5-1), Atlanta — who may be without Josef Martinez — might actually be the preference here. But really, ending up in 6th would be bad news either way.
D.C. United ties or loses, Red Bulls win, TFC does not win
This one’s more simple: United and the Red Bulls would swap spots in the standings, and the 4v5 game would take place in front of about 8,000 actual human beings at Red Bull Arena (though they’d announce attendance as 20,000, because no one pads their numbers like the Red Bulls).
D.C. United ties, Red Bulls do not win, TFC wins
NYRB falls to 6th in this scenario whether they get a draw or lose in Montreal. United and TFC both finish with 50 points, but as we discussed above, any scenario where they both get to 50 points means Toronto has the tiebreaker advantage. As such, United would be the 5 seed, and would go on the road to BMO Field.
D.C. United ties, Red Bulls and TFC do not win
United would host the Red Bulls. I would say no one would change places at all, but it is possible for New England to finish in 6th ahead of TFC. The Revs would have to win at Atlanta while Toronto loses to the Crew, so it’s extremely unlikely, but it is possible.
That won’t impact United’s playoff path, as MLS’s bizarre choice to not re-seed after the first round means that the 4v5 winner advances to play NYCFC no matter what happens in the other games, but it would be hilarious.
D.C. United loses, Red Bulls tie, TFC wins
This would see D.C. fall into 6th place. Toronto would move up to 4th, and NYRB would remain 5th due to an advantage on the games won front. It would also be incredibly deflating after the last four games.
D.C. United loses, Red Bulls tie, TFC do not win
We’d all be heading up 95 for a playoff game at Red Bull Arena. Given how underwhelming the East has been this season, this would feel like a somewhat appropriate final set of results. For yours truly, this scenario most likely means stopping for some overpriced Wendy’s at Maryland House.
D.C. United and Red Bulls lose, TFC wins
United would be at TFC, the Red Bulls would go to either Philly or Atlanta. Might as well mention that United’s results against Toronto were both draws this year: 0-0 up there, 1-1 down here.
D.C. United and Red Bulls lose, TFC do not win
United hosts the Red Bulls. If Toronto gets a point on Decision Day in this scenario, they’d still finish behind NYRB on the games won tiebreaker. There is a scenario where the Revs could jump TFC even if the Reds get a draw, but it would involve Bruce Arena’s side (currently on a very bland 2W-6D-2L run) going to Atlanta and winning by 9+ goals.
If it’s a TFC loss + Revs win, Toronto falls to 7th, and the Revs end up 6th on the games won tiebreaker behind the Red Bulls, so the outcome from United’s perspective is the same.
It would harsh our collective buzz, but we’d be looking at a home playoff game against the Red Bulls nonetheless. The Revs could get into 6th with a win, but otherwise nothing would change from today’s standings...except everyone’s confidence in the East’s lower-end playoff teams would fall even further.