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Which Eastern Conference team should D.C. United prefer to see first in the MLS Cup Playoffs?

There are five different teams the Black-and-Red could see first in the playoffs, and we're sorting out who would be the most favorable opponent.

With MLS's decision to play the important games all at the same time (a good call) and hype it up as "Decision Day" (less thrilled about that name), D.C. United will be entirely sure of who they will face first in the playoffs within moments of the end of their game against the Columbus Crew on Sunday. While we have no control over who that opponent will be, we do have a list of preferences. Here they are, starting with the most inviting opponent for United and moving down to the team we'd least like to face:

New England Revolution

Why DCU should be happy to face them: United beat the Revs at RFK and tied them in Massachusetts, and has just 1 loss to them in the past 2 years. In terms of formation, New England is entirely predictable, so the gameplanning will be easier. Plus, just look at that results map: 3 losses and a draw (at home against the Union!) in their last 4 games. Charlie Davies hasn't scored in his last 9 appearances, a cold streak that has seen him only coming off the benc in New England's last 2 matches. Before his last game with a goal (a brace against TFC on August 1st), he had gone 6 straight without scoring. The Revs don't seem to have any answers right now to an inability of anyone beyond Lee Nguyen to create chances, and even when they do manufacture a look there's no one converting right now.

Why DCU shouldn't be happy to face them: This is still a team with Nguyen and Jermaine Jones, and Jay Heaps has a very deep bench when it comes to strikers and wingers. Plus, you may recall United's visit to Foxboro this season was a dour 1-1 draw in which New England were down to 9 men for over half an hour, yet United really only created one chance (fortunately poked in from close range by Jairo Arrieta). Any team playing a 5 man midfield is going to cause United some structural issues without Davy Arnaud in peak ground-covering form, and Arnaud may not play another second this season.

Toronto FC

Why DCU should be happy to face them: TFC is tied with Chicago at the bottom of the goals against table, and Greg Vanney's constant tinkering - he's played at least 7 formations that I can think of - is less about his team's versatility and more a desperate search for anything that works at both ends of the field. The top-heavy nature of their roster means that their 4th through 11th best starters are, Benoit Cheyrou and Justin Morrow aside, nowhere near playoff worthy. Damien Perquis's hamstring injury may leave them without their most experienced center back precisely when they can't be without that sort of player.

Why DCU shouldn't be happy to face them: Sebastian Giovinco is incredible. I mean, their whole attack has been consistently able to produce goals (they're 2nd to NYRB in terms of goals scored), but mostly it's about Giovinco. He's putting up these numbers despite the fact that every team that faces TFC gameplans pretty much to shut him down first, second, and third.

Orlando City

Why DCU should be happy to face them: Orlando is probably not making the playoffs, and it's because they're largely a flawed team. Many important starters are too inexperienced to be relied upon, and they are one of the least disciplined teams in the league. That latter fact might fall on coach Adrian Heath, who for all the morally upright possession soccer Orlando plays appears unable to grasp that sometimes his players do actually deserve to be booked for going in studs-up or throwing elbows. Heath has shown some ingenuity in terms of formations during the season, but the approach is always, always the same.

OCSC could still end up jumping ahead of TFC and Chicago in terms of the worst defensive record in the league (they've given up 55 goals, just one away from the bottom). Should they by some miracle get into the playoffs, they'll have to win games with their third-string goalkeeper Josh Ford as the starter (Tally Hall and Earl Edwards have both undergone knee surgery).

Why DCU shouldn't be happy to face them: Kaka and Cyle Larin provide this team with an enviable goal threat. United's two visits to Orlando involved being outplayed pretty badly, with Bill Hamid arguably putting up the single best performance by a GK in the entire league this year in the Black-and-Red's 1-0 win early in the season. United did win at RFK and were the better team (though Heath, who was apparently just watching a replay of the first meeting, rather comically claimed otherwise), but it wasn't by so much that I'd feel safe in seeing whose home field advantage is better.

Finally, and most importantly, Orlando has won five straight thanks to finding their very best form right when anything less would have seen their season end. The Lions have gutted out 1-0 and 2-1 wins, but they've also thrown a couple of shootouts into the mix as well. For all of Heath's flaws, his chest-thumping about how great his team is appears to have convinced his players, which counts for a hell of a lot more than convincing the outside world.

Columbus Crew SC

Why DCU should be happy to face them: Columbus has long been too naive for their own good. I previously have called them "MLS's most naive team," but that's not really fair. They're just a lot more naive than the rest of the good teams around the league. Mapfre Stadium is hardly a fortress right now, either, as the Crew have lost 2 straight home games coming into this weekend. Most of all, Columbus is poor at defending in the air, and for a United team that tends to end up crossing more than they do coming through the middle, that's promising.

Why DCU shouldn't be happy to face them: Kei Kamara, Ethan Finlay, and Federico Higuain are a strong enough attacking trio that no MLS defense can be comfortable against them. They showed unexpected maturity and mental strength in beating TFC away to clinch a playoff spot last week; if that's Columbus turning over a new leaf, the questions about their backbone, as it were, would have to disappear. Gaston Sauro has added some steel to a previously soft, undersized back four, and their tactics involve stretching teams out more than any other club in MLS. That's potentially bad news for a team playing 442.

Montreal Impact

Why DCU should be happy to face them: Montreal is an emotional team that has arguably the worst discipline in MLS right now. They've picked up 9 red cards in 2015, and 3 different players in their squad have been sent off on multiple occasions. Mauro Biello is an inexperienced head coach, and the center back partnering Laurent Ciman has been a revolving door of late (even though Victor Cabrera seems head and shoulders above the rest of the pack). The Impact turn to fouling too often to solve their problems in transition, and with United's ability to score on set pieces that could be a big positive.

Why DCU shouldn't be happy to face them: Didier Drogba has been absolutely ridiculous since taking the field for IMFC. He has 9 goals in 10 appearances, many of them goals that Montreal simply wouldn't have converted with a different player in his shoes. The Impact have responded as a group, going 6W-1D-2L since he made his first start. Morale is high, and Biello has shown a more merit-based approach to picking his team than Frank Klopas (who essentially had his starters etched in stone). In Ignacio Piatti they have one of the best pure #10s in MLS, and Ciman's ability to help the Impact attack during open play from central defense is unique in this league.

From a match-up perspective, the Impact played United close at RFK in the season opener before the Black-and-Red went up to Stade Saputo to win despite being outshot 25 to 1. Montreal got their vengeance a few weeks later when Drogba scored twice in the first 11 minutes. Those two games showed that the Impact have 2 different methods of play that have proven to trouble United. In the latter game, they simply attacked relentlessly, got their goals, and then shut up shop. In DCU's other visit to Quebec, Montreal used Piatti primarily to pressure Perry Kitchen, which essentially killed any attempts at playing out of the back.