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

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

The good, the bad and the thought-provoking for Week 34

The Philadelphia Union’s regular season draws to a rare, meaningful conclusion Sunday. The club’s playoff inclusion is about as assured as it can be without being official, which sets up some puzzling motivations for this weekend’s visit from the New York Red Bulls.

Among the injuries and the usual spate of mid-week updates, three other thoughts occurred to me Wednesday at Jim Curtin’s press conference.

- The good news: About those playoff chances…

I’m not going to dig up the odds of Leicester City winning the Premier League title last year, because no one needs that. But in case there’s any lingering pangs of worry, try this tonic. The only way the Union miss out is if they lose AND New England wins AND the margins of victory/defeat sum to 12 goals. Per MLS's fact book, in 21 seasons, only eight games have ever decided by the six or more goals the Revs need to win by/the Union need to lose by (three seven-goal margins, five six-goal games). Only once (2009) has two such games fallen in the same season, and we’ve already had one monstrous margin, the 7-0 Hudson River Derby, this year. So the Union need a catastrophic set of circumstances to happen to miss the playoffs.

- The bad news: barring that volcano erupting during a hurricane bringing a plague of locusts, the Union’s postseason stay could be brief. Last week’s loss to Orlando City guaranteed the Union won’t host a playoff game, locked into either the fifth or sixth seed.

Road teams in the MLS Cup Playoffs have not traditionally fared well in one-off games. In the five years that MLS has used this formulation, road teams are 2-10.

The last road team to win a one-game playoff was the East No. 5 seed Houston Dynamo in 2012, which beat East No. 4 Chicago, 2-1. The year before, the Red Bulls, as the fourth and final wild card, bested top wild card Dallas, 2-0. (The current six-per-conference format started last year and resulted in two one-game knockout ties per conference. There was only one 4-v-5 knockout per conference from 2012-14, and 2011 drew four wild cards from either conference in two knockout games.)

- A little food for thought, inspired by my colleague Kevin Kinkead:

The Red Bulls will win the East, no matter what happens Sunday at Talen Energy Stadium. New York City, with a win, can tie them on 54 points, but there’s a 13-goal spread on goal differential. With a win and a Montreal loss, the Union would vault the Impact into fifth (wins is the first tiebreaker, and the Union would have 12 to the Impact’s 11). D.C. United is most likely to finish fourth, while NYC and Toronto can finish second or third.

So ask yourself, as a Union fan, who do you want to see in a wild card game: New York City, Toronto or D.C. United? On form, the answer is clear. D.C. has won four straight, is on a six-game unbeaten streak and have lost once in 13 games. Toronto is winless in five (0-4-1). NYC has just kind of chugged along.

The head-to-head isn’t conclusive. The Union drew in their only trip to RFK Stadium this year, but that game Aug. 6 was before D.C. started rolling. The Union got a result last time in Toronto, a 1-1 draw Sept. 24 against a Sebastian Giovinco-less side, and Toronto is completely different with the Italian. And the Union haven’t played NYC since June 18, a 3-2 loss in the first post-Vincent Nogueira game.

So if you’re the Union, wouldn’t you rather take the chance with either Toronto or NYC than deal with D.C.? If that’s the case, then a solid performance that yields a draw Sunday might be the best-case scenario.

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