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D.C. United is even more in the MLS playoff hunt than before!

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United is looking up at the red line, but they could climb up as far as 9th place this weekend

Columbus Crew SC v DC United Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

It is Halloween, and one MLS team is back from the dead, stalking the East. The other teams are trying to run, but they keep tripping over their own feet and making bad decisions to split up or hide from a villain that just walks at a steady, unremarkable pace. D.C. United is still — Still! — alive in the MLS playoff race. In fact, they’re in the best position they’ve been in relating to the red line since sometime around early September: tied for the last playoff spot on points, but now on the outside based on tiebreakers.

Not only that, but over the last four games, no team in MLS has more points than the Black-and-Red, who have picked up 10 (tied with Nashville and Philadelphia over that span), and they were unlucky not to get the full 12. Mark McKenzie won’t score another goal like that ever again.

How did we get here? Yes, United is in good form, but it also took an incredible set of mid-week results. Atlanta lost. Chicago lost. Cincinnati lost. Miami lost. Montreal lost. Everything United needed to happen, happened. The only results that didn’t go their way were the Red Bulls and Nashville getting wins, but it was virtually impossible, even within this impossible scenario, to catch them. If they get points against the other teams in our cohort, they’re helping.

When I was driving home from Audi Field Wednesday night, head swimming from these other results more than United’s scrappy win, I was reminded of the time I went to a casino while drunk, but also deeply uninterested in paying $11 for watered-down gin and tonics. So I sat down at a slot machine trying to trick waitresses into thinking I was gambling, since gamblers drink free.

This did not work.

Eventually I conceded, and came up with a new wrinkle: wait to put in $5 only so the waitress would see me gambling and thus would bring me drinks without a charge. And sure enough, I got my drink order taken within seconds. I felt like a genius, but my friends laughed at my optimism. “You’re gonna be out of money by the time she gets back, this drink wasn’t even free,” they said.

And yet: An hour later a friend found me, on my third drink and even less coherent than before, still playing on that initial investment.

Turned out that I was up $100, so once this was explained to me, I cashed out and took everyone for pizza. The friends that stayed sober all night trying to seriously play blackjack? They combined to lose about $400, arrived at the pizzeria after we had eaten all the pizza, and got food poisoning from the calzones they ordered that left one having the shakes and the other reporting hallucinations once he emerged from bed around 5pm the next day.

The point of this self-indulgent story is that sometimes you can be stumbling, acting on transparently bad ideas and the subject of mockery (no one believed my free drinks scheme would work beyond one round), and still come out on top at the end. It’s not a perfect metaphor, but these aren’t perfect times. It’s 2020, arguably self-indulgent metaphors are about as good as it gets.

Let’s get to the standings:

Eastern Conference Stadings on 10/31/2020

Team Place Points PPG GP Wins GD GF
Team Place Points PPG GP Wins GD GF
Montreal Impact 9th 23 1.095 21 7 -10 30
Chicago Fire 10th 22 1.048 21 5 -5 28
Inter Miami CF 11th 21 1 21 6 -10 22
D.C. United 12th 21 1 21 5 -14 20
Atlanta United 13th 19 0.905 21 5 -8 20
FC Cincinnati 14th 16 0.762 21 4 -21 11

I can’t believe we’re here. You can’t believe we’re here. What is happening?

But look, the waitress keeps coming back with drinks, the machine keeps saying we can gamble without asking for a change in behavior, so let’s ask for another bizarre parlay:

Nashville SC vs. Chicago Fire
Update 10:50pm: The ideal run of results is over, but the news isn’t too terrible. Nashville struck first, but Chicago got back in it to get a 1-1 road draw. It’s not ideal to go from tied for the last spot on points to one point back, but Chicago having a game in hand made them a particular worry. As of this moment, the only guarantee the Fire have to finish ahead of United involves winning out.

And in fact, their path might get a little more complicated, because that game in hand they’ve been holding comes on Wednesday against Minnesota United. You know, the Loons, who just had their game on Sunday cancelled due to positive Covid-19 tests. If their midweek clash can’t be played, points-per-game actually does apply for United, who would have to clear either 1.000, 1.045, or 1.136 PPG to finish ahead of Chicago. I’ll save you the math and just say this probably means winning in New England, and then matching Chicago’s result on the final day of the season.

Atlanta United vs. FC Cincinnati
The two teams that have most obviously quit are playing, and one of them will be awarded points despite their clear desire to not have more soccer games. It’s hard to even figure out who to go with here: Atlanta appears to have quit harder than Cincy, but Jaap Stam’s side has lost eight of their nine road games this year.

The most helpful thing here would be a win for Cincinnati, and we’re being greedy, so look for more Guzan Face on what turns out to be the only shot on goal for the visitors.

Montreal Impact vs. Orlando City
Remember last time, when I said you can’t trust Orlando? Well about that: they obliterated Atlanta on Wednesday, so maybe we’re gonna have to take a hackneyed comic book plot line approach here and temporarily treat a loathsome foe like an ally for a greater cause.

Given that Chicago has looked almost competent lately, and that they’ve got the game in hand, this may actually be the most important game this weekend for United. We’re hoping for the Lions to win, obviously, but if the teams could get into some kind of fracas that sees the Impact get a red card or two? That’d be nice.

Toronto FC vs. Inter Miami
Normally I’d say this one’s a slam dunk for United, but TFC is a deeply weird team that is mostly quite good, but sometimes they just don’t show up for whatever reason. They’ve lost twice in a row, effectively handing the Union the Supporters’ Shield, but technically they have a chance so they’ll probably stay engaged for this one.

As for Miami, there’s nothing more MLS than a bunch of guys that were playing for Juventus back in the spring now trying and failing to get points because they can’t out-fox a guy that played four years of college soccer. Welcome to the league fellas.

Another wild run of completely and inexplicably perfect results for United would leave us here heading into the final game of the season:

Super optimistic and ideal Eastern Conference Standings late Sunday night

Team Place Points PPG GP Wins GD GF
Team Place Points PPG GP Wins GD GF
D.C. United 9th 24 1.091 22 6 -13 or better at least 21
Montreal Impact 10th 23 1.045 22 7 -11 at best 30 or more
Chicago Fire 11th 22 1.048 21 5 -6 28
Inter Miami CF 12th 21 0.955 22 6 -11 at best at least 22
Atlanta United 13th 19 0.864 22 5 -9 at best at least 20
FC Cincinnati 14th 19 0.864 22 5 -20 or better at least 12

How do you feel when looking at this? We’re literally a few days ago from being like “Well it’s nice that they’re playing a little better, maybe 2021 won’t be so bad.” I can’t really put together a thought more complicated than “lol” or “yeah right, sure MLS standings, funny joke, now what are the real numbers?”