The hard part is over: D.C. United have turned around their season and clinched a berth in the MLS Cup Playoffs. Now it’s a matter of determining which seed they’ll finish with and where they’ll play in the knockout round.
It’s a significant question, as United are 13-2-2 at home and 1-9-6 away in 2018 — although that stat can be explained by the midseason acquisition of Wayne Rooney coinciding with the opening of Audi Field and a home-heavy second half to their schedule.
The Eastern Conference’s top two seeds, Atlanta United and New York Red Bulls, are locked in (order TBD) and both sides will get byes to escape the opening knockout round.
That leaves five teams vying for the remaining four spots:
- 3. New York City FC (53 points, 15-10-8)
- 4. Philadelphia Union (50 points, 15-13-5)
- 5. D.C. United (50 points, 14-11-8)
- 6. Columbus Crew (48 points, 13-11-9)
- 7. Montreal Impact (46 points, 14-15-4)
United play Chicago Fire next Sunday, MLS’s final day of the regular season, which is called “Decision Day.” Because New York City and Philadelphia play each other on Decision Day, it’s relatively easy to sort out United’s playoff scenarios.
The best United can finish is with 53 points by beating Chicago. They can earn the No. 4 seed — meaning a knockout match at Audi Field — but not the No. 3. In the other important game, either New York City draws with Union and finishes with 54 points; New York City wins and finishes with 56; or Philadelphia wins and causes a three-way tie at 53 points.
According to the MLS tiebreaking procedures, Union would earn the No. 3 in that scenario by win total (16 vs. 15 vs. 15). Then, United would either beat New York City on goal differential, or on the next step, goals for.
As the No. 4 seed, D.C. would play the No. 5, just like the wild card round of the NFL Playoffs. This could be Philadelphia, Columbus Crew, or in that last scenario, New York City.
But if United finish No. 5 or 6, there is no way they would have to travel to Columbus. Crew’s only way to earn a home playoff match now is to leapfrog both Philadelphia and D.C. for the fourth seed, in which case the Union would beat United on tiebreaker and get the No. 5 — drawing Columbus.