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Believe it or not, D.C. United is still in the playoff hunt

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No really, we can explain!

MLS: D.C. United at FC Cincinnati
This could be DCU leaping over the red line, please respect the visual metaphor
Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

With most teams looking at four games left in the standings, MLS’s Eastern Conference has sorted itself into three groups: the top four are all legitimately good, then there are two who are flawed but definitely going to the playoffs, and then...everyone else. And yes, everyone, including D.C. United. Yes, believe it or not, this applies to you, Black-and-Red faithful. We’re talking about playoffs.

Now, I know what you’re thinking:

This team isn’t going to the playoffs. I don’t wanna hear about the playoffs. Shut up about the playoffs!

That’s my impression of you, and even though I just kind of winged it, it’s really not too bad for a first attempt. The accent isn’t quite right, but overall everyone gets who the impression is of. It’s you.

So you’re saying you don’t want to hear about this, but the standings are tighter than you think:

Current Eastern Conference Standings

Team Place Points GP Wins GD GF
Team Place Points GP Wins GD GF
New York Red Bulls 7th 25 19 7 -1 22
Nashville SC 8th 24 18 6 1 18
Montreal Impact 9th 23 19 7 -7 29
Chicago Fire 10th 20 18 5 -4 24
Atlanta United 11th 19 19 5 -4 18
Inter Miami CF 12th 18 19 5 -10 19
FC Cincinnati 13th 16 19 4 -19 11
D.C. United 14th 15 19 3 -16 17

United is five points out of a playoff spot with four games to go. In another year, we’d be covering this with a “look, it’s a long shot, but we’re still in the mix” sort of mentality. 2020 has admittedly caused me to just stop looking at the standings outside of needing relevant facts for articles, but this is MLS. Everything is weird this year, but the old “win a couple games in a row, and anything can happen” energy in our league remains undefeated.

Here’s the thing: everyone on this list is really not very good. United, who have been dead last for over a month, has managed to beat three of these teams, and probably should have gotten results at Chicago and at Nashville recently. The only teams that doesn’t cover are Montreal (who have given up nearly two goals a game this year) and Atlanta (who, even after crushing D.C. 4-0, still have just 18 goals in 19 games).

The East is tragic. Some bad teams are going to the postseason. Hell, some bad teams are going to get to host a playoff game!

So if you’re still with me here, the next obstacle to tackle is the fact that there are only four games left in the season. Given a long timeline, United’s recent performances might have you thinking that the Black-and-Red could eventually overtake a few teams. But in four games? With an absolute ceiling of 27 points?

Well, let’s talk about what everyone’s up to this weekend:

Nashville SC vs. New England Revolution
Nashville is suddenly 3W-3D-1L in their last seven, dating back to their win over United in what remains the lowest-quality MLS game I’ve seen this season. They’re very limited talent-wise, and they don’t offer much beyond respectable defensive solidity, but they’re feeling confident, so they’re probably a tough out right now even for a non-bad team.

The Revs aren’t good, but they’re also too good to be in the muck of the teams that aren’t sure about their playoff status. This game feels like a draw to me, but we’re shooting for the moon here, so let’s hope New England can do us a solid.

New York Red Bulls at Chicago Fire
This covers two teams for us right off the bat. It’s a huge game for these two, if also an unappealing game for a neutral because they’re both not good in a pretty bland way. United’s chances of catching their oldest rival are vanishingly small even for the purpose of this article about a completely improbable series of events, so a Red Bulls win is the best outcome. That’d keep the Fire, who occupy the final playoff spot, on 20 points.

Montreal Impact at New York City FC
NYCFC had scored 11 goals in three games and seemed to be primed to jump up into the East’s small cohort of genuinely good teams, but in the last week and a half they’ve lost at home to the Revs, got a respectable draw at Orlando, and then got brushed aside by Columbus. They are who we thought they were: another team that is not bad, but is also not actually good.

Montreal, however, could be the cure for what ails them, because like we said before, the Impact cannot defend. This one is probably going to be wacky and high-scoring, but the Pigeons should be able to win it pretty easily.

Atlanta United vs. D.C. United
I shouldn’t have to explain this, but for the purposes of this article, our United has gotta beat the other one on Saturday. Really, for D.C. the target in these last four games has to be 10-12 points to maintain any chance of a playoff spot.

The good news: Atlanta didn’t figure anything out from whooping us at Audi Field! They’ve scored one goal in four games since then. They’re still bad, so this is still doable.

Inter Miami vs. Orlando City
2020 is perverse, so of course Orlando City is one of MLS’s better teams. I don’t like it either, but that’s good news for United. The Lions should bully the Beckhams in whatever they want to call the Multinational Conglomerate Presents MLS Authentic Rivalry Game - Florida Version.

FC Cincinnati vs. Minnesota United
Cincy has lost five in seven, including one to the team in dead last! Can you imagine, losing to the team in 26th place? Couldn’t be us!!!

Here’s the vibe in Cincinnati: they’re doing official statement tweets that concede that there’s no chance of a home playoff game while there is still some kind of mathematical chance of a home playoff game:

Obviously on Saturday, it’s Minnesota in a rout.

So look, every team in this uninspiring race to a playoff spot is facing a team that is at least a little better than them. I’m just saying, I’m just saying, that a D.C. win in Georgia and the rest of these games going to form leaves the stumbling race for 10th looking like this:

Super optimistic and ideal Eastern Conference Standings three days from now

Team Place Points GP Wins
Team Place Points GP Wins
New York Red Bulls 7th 28 20 8
Nashville SC 8th 24 19 6
Montreal Impact 9th 23 20 7
Chicago Fire 10th 20 19 5
Atlanta United 11th 19 20 5
Inter Miami CF 12th 18 20 5
D.C. United 13th 18 20 4
FC Cincinnati 14th 16 20 4

Two points back with three games to go? Folks,,, that’s a playoff hopeful.