D.C. United MLS playoff outlook & notes

October 21, 2012

Playoff-bound Chris Pontius, Marcelo Saragosa and Brandon McDonald. (Tony Quinn)

D.C. United is secure in the fact that it is going to the MLS playoffs for the first time in five years. Beyond that, postseason specifics will remain unclear until the Eastern Conference contenders complete the regular season this week.

At the moment, the current playoff matchups are:

First round, Oct. 31

Houston Dynamo (5) at New York Red Bulls (4)

Conference semifinals, two legs Nov. 3-4 and 7-8

Houston-New York winner vs. Sporting Kansas City (1)

Chicago Fire (3) vs. D.C. United (2)

First place remains within reach for United (57 points) but would require Kansas City (60 points, unbeaten in 11 straight) to lose at home Wednesday night to Philadelphia. Fat chance.

So under the assumption SKC secures the top seed, let’s look at the scenarios:

With a victory or draw against Chicago at Toyota Park on Saturday (4 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network), United would clinch second and open the playoffs the following weekend on the road. Who would DCU face?

If Chicago loses to United and New York defeats Philadelphia at PPL Park, the Red Bulls would finish third, setting up a D.C.-N.Y. playoff matchup. If Chicago earns a point and New York wins, the Fire and Red Bulls would end level on points, with New York winning the first tiebreaker (goals for). Again, it’s a D.C.-N.Y. showdown.

Houston is currently fifth, but by winning at Colorado and receiving help from D.C. and Philadelphia, the Dynamo would sneak into third place and earn a playoff meeting with United.

A loss this Saturday would drop United to the third or fourth slot. Chicago would pass DCU and, by defeating Philly, the Red Bulls would pull even and win the goal-scoring tiebreaker. A New York loss or draw would leave D.C. in third place.

United would really like to avoid the first round. Why?

– It’s a quick turnaround, having to play four days after the regular season finale. The match, though, would take place at RFK Stadium, where DCU boasts a 16-game unbeaten streak.

With a bye, a team receives a week to rest and prepare for the start of the conference semifinals.

– Even if a team survives the first round, the path to MLS Cup is daunting: three games over eight or nine days and up to five over 18 or 19 days with as many as three road trips.

Who would United most like to avoid in the playoffs? In the first round, playing at home, no one stands out. In a two-leg series, however, Houston would, in my mind, cause the most trouble. D.C. was outclassed in both visits this season to BBVA Compass Stadium and, over the years, has fared poorly in Space City: 0 wins, 8 losses, 1 draw, 4 goals for and 18 against in the past nine matches in all competitions.

The Dynamo is 11-0-6 at BBVA since it opened in May.

Sure, United would have a second leg at RFK to make up for any setback, but the Dynamo is too experienced and well-coached to let an aggregate lead slip away.

The matchups are already set in the West:

First round, Nov. 1

Vancouver Whitecaps (5) at Los Angeles Galaxy (4)

Conference semifinals, Nov. 3-4 and Nov. 7-8

Vancouver-LA winner vs. San Jose (1)

Seattle Sounders (2 or 3) vs. Real Salt Lake (2 or 3)

In other United news…..

*Ben Olsen said there is a chance Dwayne De Rosario could return for the playoffs, but only if United advances a long way.

“Very, very extended [through the playoffs]. I would say there is probably a chance. I don’t know. And I don’t know if anybody knows right now where he’s at. He is progressing quickly. I have told my trainers and doctors, you tell me the day he is ready to go because I have got a job to do and we can’t rely on that, but it would sure be nice to see him back because that means we were very, very deep into the playoffs.”

*Left back Daniel Woolard, sidelined since early August with concussion issues, has been upgraded to questionable but must remain free of symptoms and regain fitness and form. In other words, Chris Korb, who has filled in admirably, seems likely to remain the lineup for the foreseeable future.

*Where does this regular season stack up against United’s best campaigns? It’s a little difficult to determine the 2012 rank because, in the first four years, shootouts were used to break ties (one point for a shootout victory). In addition, the number of matches has fluctuated.

Here is where United stands this season…..

2012: 33 matches (1 remaining): 17-10-6, 57 points, +10 GD

And here are the most successful years…..

1998: 32 matches, 24-8, 58 points, +26 goal difference (Bruce Arena)

1999: 32 matches, 23-9, 57 points, +22 GD, Supporters’ Shield (Thomas Rongen)

2007: 30 matches, 16-7-7, 55 points, +22 GD, Supporters’ Shield (Tom Soehn)

1997: 32 matches, 21-11-0, 55 points, +17 GD, Supporters’ Shield (Bruce Arena)

2006: 32 matches, 15-7-10, 55 points, +14 GD, Supporters’ Shield (Peter Nowak)

2005: 32 matches, 16-10-6, 54 points, +21 GD (Peter Nowak)

*I hate to end this blog entry on a dark note — and we have discussed this issue at length this season — but there’s no avoiding the home attendance numbers. Despite drawing 19,647 on Saturday, the biggest turnout of the year, United finished with the lowest average in its 17 seasons at RFK Stadium: 13,846. Of MLS’s other 18 clubs, only Chivas USA and San Jose will have lower figures. (Chivas has never built a firm fan base and San Jose plays primarily in a 10,700-seat stadium.)

 

Steven Goff is The Post’s soccer writer. His beats include D.C. United, MLS and the international game, as well as local college basketball.
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Steven Goff | October 21, 2012