Seeding at stake as D.C. United face Chicago

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Today’s match between D.C. United and the Chicago Fire (4 p.m., NBCSN) was stripped of its do-or-die status when United clinched a playoff berth with last weekend’s 3-2 win over the Columbus Crew. But there still is plenty at stake in this one.

With a win or draw, United will clinch the No. 2 seed and automatic passage to the conference semifinals. D.C. also has the potential to lock up a bye before the game kicks off — if the New York Red Bulls are held to a draw or loss by the Philadelphia Union in those teams’ 1:30 p.m. encounter, United will finish no worse than third.

For the record, United coach Ben Olsen said the advantage of finishing second instead of third and securing the second leg of a conference semifinal at home doesn’t really matter to him. A result today also would bolster the club’s chances of hosting the MLS Cup (out West, Seattle and Salt Lake could pass United in the pecking order) and qualifying for the CONCACAF Champions League.

And the worst-case scenario for D.C. today is a loss and New York win, which would drop United into fourth place and a knockout round match against the Houston Dynamo at RFK Stadium on Wednesday — as “Frankenstorm” passes through the region.

For some some pregame reading material, my print-edition stories this week focused on United’s successful road to the playoffs, the unlikely contributions of veteran Marcelo Saragosa and the club’s desire to dodge the knockout round.

SCOUTING REPORT

The most intriguing matchup today will feature two players unlikely to have much actual interaction on the field: United winger Nick DeLeon and Chicago center back Austin Berry. The former Louisville teammates are the two Rookie of the Year front-runners, and each club has jumped into the fray with some clever campaigning.

Here is DeLeon’s video taking a good-natured shot at the Fire defender, followed by Berry’s rebuttal.

If you’d like to learn a bit more about the opposition, check out my profiles over at Soccer By Ives of two Fire players: journeyman right back Dan Gargan and attacking catalyst Chris Rolfe.

OLSEN’S OPTIONS

Here is the lineup I see Olsen using today:

Hamid; Najar, McDonald, Jakovic, Korb; DeLeon, Kitchen, Saragosa, Pontius; Pajoy, Santos

Nothing fancy here — just the same lineup Olsen used last weekend. Lewis Neal was a prime candidate to start in the 4-5-1 Olsen has favored on the road lately, but a calf strain has him listed as doubtful.

FREE KICKS

— A once-lengthy United injury report has been narrowed, with only Dwayne De Rosario (MCL sprain) and Josh Wolff (lower back disc herniation) out. Daniel Woolard (concussion) and Long Tan (ankle sprain) have been upgraded to questionable, while Neal (doubtful with a calf strain) is this week’s only addition to the list.

— Today’s referee will be Jair Marrufo. Both teams will be sporting away kits today, with Chicago in all-blue, United in all-white.

— Yellow-card suspensions do not carry over to the playoffs, so only a red card today will sideline a player come postseason.

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