D.C. United playoff scenarios heading into final MLS weekend

D.C. United midfielder Luciano Acosta (10) celebrates his goal with forward Wayne Rooney (9) and Yamil Asad (22) during the second half of an MLS soccer match against Orlando City, Sunday, Aug. 12, 2018, in Washington. D.C. United won 3-2. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

WASHINGTON — Against long odds, D.C. United’s remarkable, late-season run has landed the Black and Red back in the playoffs in 2018. But heading into the final weekend of the MLS season, seeding is still not decided. Here’s a guide to help you make sense of the possible scenarios.

D.C. United could finish anywhere between fourth and sixth in the Eastern Conference, depending on what happens this weekend. Fourth place would mean hosting a playoff game mid-next week against the fifth seed, while any finish lower than that would mean traveling for that elimination game.

So the stakes are still high, especially considering United’s severe home/road differential. They’ve played just four games on the road since Audi Field opened (and Wayne Rooney joined the team), going 0-2-2 heading into the regular season finale in Chicago.

There are a lot of moving parts here. The tiebreakers that could play a difference in this year’s standings are in order, as follows:

  1. Total number of wins
  2. Goal differential
  3. Goals scored

As it stands heading into the weekend, NYCFC is in third place with 53 points, the Philadelphia Union and D.C. each have 50 points, the sixth-place Columbus Crew have 48, and the Montreal Impact 46. The top six make the playoffs with these five teams in the mix for those final four spots.

NYCFC and Philadelphia each have 15 wins, while United has 14 and Columbus 13. New York has a +12 goal differential, while Philly is just at +1, D.C. is at +10 and Columbus at -2. That sets up the following possibilities:

D.C. United finishes sixth if:

United loses at Chicago and Columbus beats Minnesota at home. This would leave D.C. at 50 points and push the Crew to 51 points. United would then open the playoffs on the road at the No. 3 seed.

D.C. United finishes fifth if:

United loses at Chicago and Columbus draws or loses to Minnesota at home. This would leave D.C. at 50 points and the Crew at 48 or 49. Toronto could also sneak in with a win in this situation, getting them to 49 points, with more wins that Columbus.

OR

United draws at Chicago, Philadelphia and NYFYC draw. This puts United and Philly at 51 points, but the Union get the tiebreaker based on overall wins and NCYFC gets the third seed at 54 points. A Columbus win would also put them at 51 points, but they’d lose to D.C. on the goal differential tiebreaker.

D.C. United finishes fourth if:

United draws or wins and Philadelphia loses, leaving D.C. at either 51 or 53 points and Philly at 50 points, with New York at 56.

OR

United wins and Philadelphia wins, leaving D.C., Philly and New York each with 53 points. In this case, the Union grab the 3 seed by virtue of their 16 overall wins, while the 4/5 spots come down to goal differential between United and NYCFC. If either game is decided by more than a single goal, D.C. will own the greater goal differential and earn the 4 spot. If both games are the minimum, one-goal difference, the table will go to the third tiebreaker, goals scored, in which D.C. owns a for-goal advantage entering Sunday, all but ensuring them the 4 seed in this circumstance.

Got all that? Good. The most important part is this: no matter what else happens, if D.C. wins, they’ll earn the fourth seed and a home playoff game. They control their own destiny to ensure another match at Audi Field.

The games are all set to start and end right around the same time on Sunday (much like MLB’s final-day-of-the-regular-season model), so you’ll be well-served to know what you’re rooting for before the frantic finish.


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