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Posted at 01:08 PM ET, 08/29/2011

With long gap between matches, D.C. United faces challenging schedule in hunt for MLS playoff berth

[UPDATES with Oct. 19 as the make-up game vs. Portland.]

By the time D.C. United plays its next MLS match, just the 25th on a 34-game calendar, eight clubs will have already reached the final stage of the regular season – a discrepancy that will play a significant role in United’s pursuit of a playoff berth.

United, the Philadelphia Union and Real Salt Lake share the distinction of having played the fewest matches (24) in the 18-team league, but because of Saturday’s postponement and a previously planned break this week, D.C. will go 20 days between outings and fall well behind everyone else on the schedule.

Consequently, while most clubs will complete the regular season with matches in common intervals, United will stuff 10 games into six weeks.

United (7-7-10, 31 points) is off until Sept. 10 at Chivas USA, a late-night start in the Eastern time zone. Before that match commences, Toronto FC and the Colorado Rapids will have completed their 29th games. The Seattle Sounders, Houston Dynamo, Sporting Kansas City, FC Dallas, Los Angeles Galaxy and New England Revolution will have finished their 28th.

United’s back-loaded schedule carries both positive and negative elements. On the bright side, the club largely controls its future: By earning points in most of those 10 remaining matches, a playoff slot is almost assured. Conversely, the pressure to secure those points and the inevitable fatigue that will set in during a cluttered stretch present considerable challenges.

At the moment, although United is not among 10 playoff teams based on points, the club does advance when factoring number of matches played and points per game (1.29). Real Salt Lake (1.63), Colorado (1.46) and Houston (1.30) would fill the other wild-card slots. But that formula assumes D.C. will continue to earn points at the current pace. United missed out on numerous potential points against weaker teams late this summer – losing at home to New England, drawing at home against Toronto, drawing away against the Chicago Fire – and now faces a stretch that is busier and more demanding.

Sandwiched between matches against Chivas (1.15 ppg), United will visit Seattle, which is pursuing Los Angeles for the Supporters’ Shield, awarded to the club with the most overall points in MLS. After hosting playoff-bound Real Salt Lake, it will hit the road to play two of the top teams in the Eastern Conference (Philadelphia and the Columbus Crew) and visit the lowly Vancouver Whitecaps before welcoming Chicago and Kansas City to RFK Stadium.

The make-up date for Saturday’s weather-related postponement against the Portland Timbers (1.23 ppg) at RFK is Oct. 19 at 8 p.m., meaning United will play three home matches in the final eight days of the season. will be discussed – and perhaps finalized – on Tuesday.

The other options available weren’t ideal: Sept. 14 would’ve require dUnited to play mid-week between West Coast trips; Oct. 5 would’ve forced Portland to fly to Washington after a Vancouver visit three days earlier; and Oct. 8 is a FIFA international fixture date when United starters Dwayne De Rosario and Dejan Jakovic (Canadian national team), and possibly Bill Hamid (United States) and Andy Najar (Honduras), are absent. The Timbers might also have been shorthanded.

That left Oct. 18-19: United is home on the 15th and 22nd, Portland is home on the 14th and at RSL on the 22nd.

By  |  01:08 PM ET, 08/29/2011

Tags:  D.C. United, MLS

 
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