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D.C. United’s MLS playoff scenarios

With two games left to play, we took a look at all of the ways the season could end for United

Thanks to their current three-game winning streak, D.C. United is sitting in a comfortable position. 43 points is not enough to clinch a playoff spot - that will require 46 points as of this writing - but it does put United very close to a playoff spot in MLS’s Eastern Conference. However, this late-season surge has given fans of the Black-and-Red reason to believe that their team isn’t just going to make up the numbers in the postseason.

Of course, with a bye to the conference semifinals out of reach, United could make things a lot easier on themselves if they clinched a home game in the knockout round. One of those places is out of reach; even if United won their last two games while Toronto FC lost theirs, the Reds would stay ahead of DC on the first tiebreaker (total wins, of which TFC would have 13 to United’s 12). That doesn’t leave a lot of room for error.

So how can this happen? And what other scenarios exist for United? Let’s go through all of them:

United wins twice, finishes with 49 points

Hey, this sounds good. The Black-and-Red could even pull into a tie with TFC in this scenario if Toronto lost both of their remaining games. However, the Reds would still finish third, as United can’t match their 13 wins on the season. It would still give DCU a huge chance to host a knockout round match, though. The Philadelphia Union would be unable to keep pace, and if the Montreal Impact dropped any points in their final matches (home vs. TFC and at the New England Revolution), United would be guaranteed a home playoff game.

If Montreal were to also win twice, they’d have 50 points, so United would be unable to climb into the top four. That would require a mid-week road playoff game victory to get at least one more game at RFK.

United gets a win and a tie, finishes with 47 points

This is still pretty good, and the chances of a home playoff game are still pretty solid. 47 points would see United would finish fourth in the East provided Montreal fails to win either of their last two games - with Sebastian Giovinco probably back for TFC tomorrow and the Revs heating up, this seems like a realistic possibility - while the Union takes somewhere between 0-4 points from theirs. It’s worth noting that, if Montreal were to get to 47, they’d need a win at some point, and in this scenario that would give them the tiebreaker over United.

United would fall into fifth if the Impact managed a win at some point (which would, at best, force that tiebreaker scenario), or if the Union got to 48 points by winning twice. If both of those things were to happen, United would drop to sixth. 47 points is still more than enough to clinch a playoff spot, as New England can only get to 45.

United wins one and loses one, finishes with 46 points

Win at home and lose on the road? Beat the team further down the standings but lose to the potential Eastern Conference champs? However it works out, this is still an outcome that assures United of a playoff spot. In fact, it could still be good enough to finish in fourth and get that home game. However, United would need some help. For that to happen, Montreal would have to fail to win either of their games while the Union lose at least once. That would leave the Impact with a maximum of 46 and Philly with a best possible total of 45.

In this instance, the tiebreaker between the Black-and-Red and Montreal would break DC’s way. With the Impact not getting any more wins and United adding one, the first tiebreaker would end in an 11-11 tie. Goal difference is the next tiebreak, and United’s +6 gives them a huge edge on Montreal’s -1. There is a way that the Impact could win on goal difference, but since they’d have tied twice in this scenario, it would require United’s loss to be by at least 8 goals (possibly more depending on how big of a margin DCU’s win were to come by).

If United lands on 46 points and either the Impact win at least once or the Union pick up a minimum of four points, that knockout round game will be on the road. DCU would finish fifth either way, with Montreal getting to at least 47 or the Union getting to somewhere between 46-48 points. Philadelphia would have the games won tiebreaker (12-11) over United.

If Montreal gets a win and the Union take 4-6 points at the same time, United would fall into sixth place.

United ties twice, finishes with 45 points

This is the most complicated scenario, as it’s the only one where United could finish fourth, fifth, sixth, or seventh.

Fourth place would require a lot of help. Montreal would have to lose twice, while the Union don’t pick up any wins, and also while the Revolution only win once. Those results would see Montreal finish with 44, the Union with somewhere between 42-44, and the Revs with no more than 43. It would also require a very specific sequence of results for New England, who would have to lose at Chicago this weekend and then beat Montreal on the final day of the season. Were the Revs to win twice and get to 45 points, they’d have 12 wins to United’s 10 and finish ahead of the Black-and-Red.

United would finish fifth if any one of the following things happened:

  • Montreal were to pick up any points (getting them to 45 at a minimum, and they’d have the tiebreak)
  • Philadelphia wins at least once (like the Impact, that guarantees at least 45, and they’d have the tiebreak)
  • New England wins twice (same situation as the others, 45 + tiebreak)

Were two of those three things happen, United would finish in 6th place. If all three happened - which would require Montreal to get their point(s) this weekend against TFC, because they’d have to turn around and lose to New England - the Black-and-Red would be on the outside looking in. So tomorrow, if nothing else, you’re rooting for TFC to beat Montreal, or for the Revs to end up with a tie in Chicago.

United gets a tie and a loss, finishes with 44 points

This is where things get significantly less promising. For one thing, a home playoff game is off the board, as Montreal would hold the tiebreaker even if they lost twice.

However, United still has plenty of paths into the postseason with 44 points. If the Union finishes up with a tie and a loss (or two losses) while the Revs don’t win out, DCU would end up in 5th place, and likely a trip to Canada for their knockout round match.

Sixth place enters the frame if the Union do not pick up a loss (that would get them to a minimum of 44 points, and they’d have the tiebreaker 11-10) or if the Revs get to 45 points by winning both of their remaining games. If both of those things happen, United would land in seventh and miss out on the playoffs. So yeah, again, you’re hoping for the Fire to put together one last competent performance this season.

United loses twice, finishes with 43 points

It’s safe to say this would be ending the season with a massive thud. Catching Montreal, who already have 44 points, would be impossible. However, United would still have a fair-to-decent chance of backing into the playoffs regardless of this unpalatable finish. In fact, DCU would maintain their current fifth place spot if a) Philly lost twice and b) the Revs lost at least once. Both of those teams would be unable to get above 42 points if that came to pass.

Sixth seems like the most plausible outcome, though. If the Union avoids defeat even once, or if the Revs pick up four or six points in their final games, United will be sitting in the final playoff spot. Both teams would have the tiebreaker edge on games won in this scenario. That fact could also see United finish seventh, but only if the Revs pick up 4+ points while the Union get at least one point somewhere along the line.