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D.C. United is seriously (no, seriously) in the hunt for an MLS playoff spot

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Last weekend went unreasonably well for the Black-and-Red

MLS: D.C. United at Atlanta United FC
The ad boards remain a visual metaphor for the red line, this site appreciates frame composition
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

It should not be lost on any D.C. United fan that none other than Ben Olsen has said, probably in five different seasons, that a three-game run of results at any given time in an MLS season can put a team in the mix for a playoff berth.

Well, United has picked up seven points from their last three games. What happens when you pick up 38.9% of your season point total in a ten-day span? If you’re in this year’s Eastern Conference, you are officially In The Playoff Hunt:

Eastern Conference Standings as of 10/27/2020

Team Place Points GP Wins GD GF
Team Place Points GP Wins GD GF
New York Red Bulls 8th 26 20 7 -1 24
Montreal Impact 9th 23 21 7 -10 30
Inter Miami CF 10th 21 20 6 -9 21
Chicago Fire 11th 21 19 5 -4 26
Atlanta United 12th 19 20 5 -5 19
D.C. United 13th 18 20 4 -15 19
FC Cincinnati 14th 16 20 4 -20 11

A few days ago, we talked about this as being a long shot, and I admitted that I wasn’t even looking at the standings all that much because we’d never be at this stage. But...

This weekend went nearly perfectly for United. They did their part by dropping Atlanta at the death, but they also got good news from elsewhere. Montreal and Cincinnati lost, the Red Bulls took two points off the table with some thievery in stoppage time in Chicago, and the only other winner in the East’s bottom half was Miami (never trust Orlando, fam).

Now, if you’ve ever been to a casino, you may have thought about walking away while you’re ahead. It’s unlikely, even in this slop of a conference, that the results will be this kind again, and then again, and then one more time after that. But look: we’ve been crawling in the desert for a full season, and just as we were about to succumb to our fate, there’s a glimmer of something off in the distance. Let’s keep thinking it’s an oasis, because maybe it is!

Montreal Impact vs. Nashville SC
Update 9:11pm: Nashville got the job done, winning 1-0 thanks to some extremely Nashville soccer. Very straightforward, very focused on organization and defensive engagement, and one piece of cleverness (a quick free kick in this case) was just enough to give them a win over Montreal. The Impact were about half a foot from getting a late equalizer, but Romell Quioto’s late goal was called back for what was...probably the right call. We’re biased though, you know how it is.

Anyway the win means Nashville has 28 points, so United can’t catch them. As such, they’re no longer in the tables that were part of this piece earlier.

New York Red Bulls vs. New England Revolution
Speaking of going over the horizon, the Red Bulls are one win (or two draws) from being out of reach as far as DCU is concerned. But screw the Metros, right? I mean, can you imagine how funny it would be to finish the season ahead of them based on how it’s gone so far?

It’s not unreasonable to expect the Revs to win at Red Bull Arena, which will be hosting two games in 24 hours. Carles Gil’s return from injury means they are no longer merely an adequate team that people tend to overrate and into the team those overraters (Is that a word? No? Well too bad we’re using it) claim they are.

FC Cincinnati vs. Sporting Kansas City
Like we said the last time we did this, Cincy already talked about how they’re not going to have any home games beyond the regular season. Quitters never prosper. Sporks in a rout.

Making the same joke is lazy, but the form guide backs me here. KC is 4W-1D-1L in their last six games, and while they’re 1-1-1 in that stretch away from home, Cincinnati has lost six of their last eight games (including three of their last four home games). They’re gonna finish dead last.

Orlando City vs. Atlanta United
Never trust Orlando, especially right now as they are suddenly coasting along rather than playing with the zip they had previously. They’re on a 0W-3D-1L run at the moment, and they haven’t been playing the East’s best in that span; NYCFC is the best team to play the Lions in this particular set of games.

On the other hand, Gelmin Rivas may have just made the Several Stripes say uncle. This game matters to them because of their rivalry with Orlando, and they start with a spiritual one-goal lead because of the legendary Josef Martinez “Orlando!” video, but ATL is still a pretty bad team right now. Orlando may be falling off their previous pace, and they may be missing a couple notable players, but at home they should be winning this game.

Philadelphia Union vs. Chicago Fire
The Union just obliterated TFC in what is the biggest win they’ve ever had as a club. They’re sprinting towards the Supporters Shield. Meanwhile, Chicago keeps figuring out ways to throw wins away, and they’re the only team in MLS with zero road wins in 2020.

They’re going to lose in Chester.

FC Dallas vs. Inter Miami
This one’s a little bit of a problem. Dallas has one win in the last month, and they’ve only scored one goal in their last four games. Meanwhile, Miami has been grinding out nervy results in classic Diego Alonso fashion, and they’ve been doing it mostly by bagging goals in the final ten-plus minutes. They’re the form team in this game.

One saving grace? No one in MLS has more road losses than them, and Dallas has just one home loss all year. It feels like the smart money here is on a draw, but we’re not doing smart money here (or even betting, since this is an article rather than a gambling establishment). Dallas gets the win that virtually seals their playoff spot in the West, because we need them to for the purposes of what is apparently going to be a series of articles.

That brings us to what the table could look like when you wake up Thursday morning, which is to say here’s the mega-happy ending.

Super optimistic and ideal Eastern Conference Standings late Wednesday night

Team Place Points GP Wins GD GF
Team Place Points GP Wins GD GF
New York Red Bulls 8th 26 21 7 -2 at best at least 24
Montreal Impact 9th 23 21 7 -10 30
Inter Miami CF 10th 21 21 6 -10 at best at least 21
Chicago Fire 11th 21 20 5 -5 at best at least 26
D.C. United 12th 21 21 5 -14 or better at least 20
Atlanta United 13th 19 21 5 -6 at best at least 19
FC Cincinnati 14th 16 21 4 -21 at best at least 11

Now, this isn’t a major difference for United in terms of place in the table. They’d move up above Atlanta, but that’s it. However, in the space of two games we’re talking about going from five points out of the playoffs to potentially being out only by virtue of two tiebreakers. Miami would have the edge on total wins, because of course MLS chose a goofy tiebreaker for no discernible reason.

They’d remain behind the Fire unless both Chicago’s loss and United’s win are staggering blowouts (think 5-0, that kind of thing), because on the second tiebreaker United’s woeful goal difference leaves them at a loss. We’re stretching pretty far for this piece as it is, so let’s leave some future gains for the weekend, shall we?