Mapping DC United's road to the MLS Cup playoffs
WASHINGTON — With 10 regular-season matches remaining, D.C. United are right in the thick of the hunt for a playoff spot as they sit just one point out of a wild card berth.
“We’re in a spot where we hoped to be at in this point in the season,” manager Ben Olsen said last week. “It’s up to us to sort out the games at hand and get on a little bit of a run.”
Due to the postponement of August’s match against the Portland Timbers because of Hurricane Irene, the final 10 games of the season will now be played in the season’s final two months. The Timbers match – rescheduled to Oct. 19 – is now part of a three-game final homestand set for the last week of the season.
The remaining schedule can be broken down into four distinct segments, with two stretches at home and two away. It all begins this weekend against Chivas USA.
Part 1: West Coast Road Swing
Sept. 10 at Chivas USA, Sept. 17 at Seattle
Road trips have been a point of strength for DC thus far in 2011, as they are the only Eastern Conference team to win four games away from home this year.
Kicking things off against Chivas USA this Saturday, DC have the chance to face a direct competitor for a wild card spot. Following the game against Chivas, United put their unbeaten record in the Pacific Northwest on the line when they travel up to CenturyLink Field and face the high-flying Sounders.
Part 2: Back At Home
Sept. 21 vs. Chivas USA, Sept. 24 vs. Real Salt Lake
A second crack at Chivas only 11 days after the two meet for the first time in 2011 will likely carry as much importance, if not more, than the first game.
Three days later, United are presented a difficult test against CONCACAF Champions League finalists Real Salt Lake to close out this brief two-game stretch. The two sides played to a 1-1 draw at Rio Tinto earlier in the year.
Part 3: On The Road Again
Sept. 29 at Philadelphia, Oct. 2 at Columbus, Oct. 12 at Vancouver
The final road stretch of the regular season doesn’t take the team too far away in the first weekend. Trips to Philadelphia and Columbus – two teams currently in the upper half of the Eastern Conference table – could provide a chance for DC to claw their way into the top three in the East.
After getting a weekend off, United close out life on the road with an away jaunt to expansion side Vancouver, who are essentially playing for pride.
Part 4: Closing Out At RFK
Oct. 15 vs. Chicago Fire, Oct. 19 vs. Portland Timbers, Oct. 22 vs. Sporting KC
What better way to end the season than to face three potential playoff rivals all at home?
Barring a collapse, a playoff spot should still be within United’s grasp by the time the last week rolls around. While home results to this point have been slightly disappointing, the last eight days of the season will provide a chance to make things right against Chicago, Portland and Sporting KC.
Tired legs will be an issue with the last four games of the season played over the final 10 days, but so long as United take care of business at home, they should find themselves playoff-bound.
Travis Clark covers D.C. United, college and youth soccer for MLSsoccer.com.