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A Philadelphia Union blog hosted by Christopher A. Vito and Matthew De George

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

The new math: What the Union need to make the playoffs

Plans have changed for the Philadelphia Union over the last few weeks. With so many moving parts in the playoff race, it’s no surprise that the projections are a bit of a moving target. Some of the previous estimates, well, they’ve proven not to hold up too well, thanks to a variety of factors.

With three weeks left in the regular season, the equation comes down to six teams vying for three spots in the playoffs (with New York already having clinched a spot and assuming Kansas City is essentially safe). Here’s what it would take for each team to reach postseason paydirt.

(Listed are all the relevant stats, including the top three tiebreakers, in order, of wins, goals scored and goal differential.)

Let’s start with the Union:

Union (12-10-9, 45 points); 38 goals scored, even
Remaining schedule: at D.C. United, at Montreal, vs. Sporting KC
The line for playoff qualification could be drawn by the Union. If they could somehow get two wins, then there’s really no way I see a team with 51 points missing out on the top five. They’ve managed results against each of the three teams they have left, twice beating D.C. (we’ll throw out the lackadaisical performance in the U.S. Open Cup), drawing at home with Montreal and beating SKC at home two weeks ago. If they could even get five points, they might be good, though two draws on the road and needing a win at home in the season finale against KC is quite the predicament. Could three points get them there? Conceivably. But two wins in the next three would all but guarantee it.

Houston (13-10-8, 47 points); 39 goals scored, plus-2
vs. Sporting KC, vs. Red Bulls, at D.C. United
Every MLS team’s worst nightmare is the Dynamo going into the playoffs with a head of steam. The Union, though not in a position to be picky, probably wouldn’t want to see a team that they’ve lost to twice this season and that eliminated them from their only playoff appearance in 2011. The Dynamo are 3-0-1 in their last four, but they don’t have a win against either of their next two opponents this season (0-3-1). Kansas City has a chance to clinch a playoff spot this week with a win, but New York is already in, so we’ll see how hard they push in a trip to BBVA Compass Stadium. Houston could run the table, but realistically two wins and a draw put them out of the reach of the teams behind them.

Montreal (13-10-7, 46 points), 48 goals scored, plus-3
vs. New England, at Los Angeles, vs. Philadelphia, at Toronto
The Impact have a game in hand on everyone. But they have the toughest run in of any team – not to mention, given their erratic form, the toughest to project – highlighted by three games in seven days for one of the league’s oldest teams. Getting a result at an LA team desperate to avoid the play-in game will be a major task, especially if they slip up against the Revs, the team that represents their only win in the last six. The Union could go to Montreal playing for nothing more than a draw to take two points from their direct rivals, and Toronto can define its season by interrupting the Impact’s playoff chase. Who knows what the Impact will get out of this stretch? I could see them, at their best, taking nine points; I think three is equally likely. The upside for the Impact is that they have a marked advantage in goals scored that only a massive drought could erase.

Chicago (12-12-7, 43 points), 41 goals scored, minus-4
at FC Dallas, vs. Toronto, at New York
The team directly behind the Union, Chicago has some work to do. They are 1-10-2 all time at Dallas, a team playing for its playoff life this weekend. Among teams in the East, Chicago is second-worst away from home with a 2-8-4 record, casting doubt onto the ability to get a result at Red Bull Arena even against a team that will likely have wrapped up the top spot in the East by then. Toronto should be three points, but then the Union proved that the Reds are anything put pushovers. Realistically, look for four points here.

New England (11-11-9, 42 points) 44 goals scored, plus-8
at Montreal, vs. Columbus, at Columbus
The playoff race could be determined this weekend with the New England-Montreal game. If the Impact win, that means the Revolution can get a maximum of 48 points. The Revs know that a loss anywhere down the stretch ends it and that they likely need a road win; 1-0-2, a reasonable return, gets them to only 47 points, and that won’t cut it. By the same token, if the Revs can win at Montreal, it’s conceivable that they can run the table. If the cutoff is somewhere between 49 and 50 points, than that is what’s required.

Columbus Crew (12-15-5, 41 points), 40 goals scored, minus-2
at New England, vs. New England
The Crew’s playoff hopes are flickering, so much so that wins by Montreal and the Union and a Houston result would knock them out before they even have a chance to play a game. The best they can hope for is to win out and get some help. Beating New England twice, though, is unlikely.

Dynamo: 2-0-1 (15-19-8, 53 points)
Impact: 2-1-1 (15-11-8, 53 points)
Union: 1-1-1 (13-12-10, 49 points)
Chicago: 1-1-1 (13-13-8, 47 points)
New England: 1-1-1 (12-12-10, 46 points)
Columbus: 1-1-0 (13-16-5, 44 points)

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