Smallwood: Curtin has Union's number regarding playoffs

Posted: September 23, 2016

P HILADELPHIA UNION head coach Jim Curtin is not a clairvoyant. He's just been in Major League Soccer has a player or coach for nearly half of his life and has a pretty good understanding of how things normally shake out.

Before the start of the regular season, Curtin assessed the Eastern Conference and figured it would take between 47 and 50 points to qualify for one of the six playoff spots.

He even had a formula for the Union to grab a postseason bid for the first time since 2011 and only the second time in franchise history.

"If we get 10 (wins in Talen Energy Stadium), you win some on the road and draw a few, you'll be in the playoffs," Curtin had said when the Union started the season 1-1.

Starting with Saturday's game at East-leading Toronto FC (47 points), the Union has four regular-season games remaining. The Zolos are currently fourth in the East with 41 points with a three-point lead over fifth-place Montreal (38) and five over sixth-place New England (36).

D.C. United and Orlando City SC are currently tied in the seventh spot just outside of the playoffs with 34 points each. Both clubs have only played 29 games so they have a match in hand over the Union.

Still the maximum points either can earn is 15, which would put their final regular season total at 49.

That means that if the Union get nine points out of their final four games, they will finish with 50 points and that will guarantee them no worse than the sixth and final playoff spot.

"The good thing is we've earned all 41 points," Curtin said on Wednesday during his midweek press conference. "None have been given to us.

"Would we like to have a few more? Absolutely, but at the same time we've set ourselves up in a very good position right now. We control our own destiny and that's a good position to be in."

The remaining schedule, however, is challenging.

After Toronto, the Union plays at the New York Red Bulls on Oct. 1. Philadelphia's final two games are at Talen Energy against Orlando (Oct. 16) and then the Red Bulls (Oct. 23).

Considering the teams behind them and the way the schedule plays out, it's likely that it is only going to take 47 or 48 points to get a postseason bid in the East.

It is impossible for Orlando and D.C. United to get the maximum 15 possible points because they play each other this Saturday at RFK Stadium and again in a regular-season finale in Orlando on Oct. 23.

Between its dates with D.C., Orlando plays at Toronto in a short week Wednesday night match on Sept. 28, against Montreal on Oct. 2 and at Talen Energy Stadium against the Union on Oct. 16.

MLS has a two-week break in early October because of FIFA World Cup qualifying.

Before finishing with Orlando, D.C. United hosts Columbus on Wednesday, travels to Toronto on Oct. 1 and hosts New York City FC on Oct. 16.

Montreal and New England cannot both pick up maximum points either because they play each other in the final match of the regular season.

Montreal, which also has a game in hand over the Union, plays at the second-place Red Bulls (45 points) on Saturday, hosts San Jose on Wednesday and travels to Orlando on Oct. 2.

After the World Cup break, Montreal plays host to archrival Toronto before finishing the season at New England Oct. 23.

New England plays at Columbus on Sunday, then hosts Sporting KC, which is fighting for a playoff spot in the Western Conference, on Oct. 1. The Revolution then plays at Chicago on Oct. 16 and finishes the regular season against visiting Montreal on Oct. 23.

The Union is not looking for a backdoor way into the playoffs, but things are going to happen that will alter the points table.

The odds are that the Union will not need to get to 50 points, but if they do, they will set a franchise record total. And considering the Union is just four points behind the New York clubs, which are tied for second with 45 points, there is a possibility that they could earn enough points to finish second in the East and earn a first round bye in the playoffs.

The only time the Union made the playoffs - in 2011 - they had 48 points.

The Union, who have two home games remaining, are 8-3-4 at Talen Energy putting them on pace for the 10 home wins Curtin predicted would earn a playoff bid.

If they win those final two games at home, the least amount of points they can earn will be 47 and factoring in the situations of the teams behind them that should be enough to make the playoffs.

Curtin can't see the future, but he knows what it takes to make the MLS playoffs. Now his team has to go out and get it done.


smallwj@phillynews.com

@SmallTerp

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