Playoff Scenarios And Why The Union Should Finish Second In The Eastern Conference

The Philadelphia Union have an opportunity, on Saturday, to clinch the franchise's first ever playoff birth. Here's how the team can capitalize on its success and reach the playoffs (via PhiladelphiaUnion.com):

Philadelphia Union will clinch a berth in the MLS Cup Playoffs if:

· They defeat Toronto FC (Oct. 15)

OR

· They tie Toronto FC (Oct. 15) AND

· Portland and Houston tie (Oct. 14) OR

· New York tie or lose to Kansas City (Oct. 15)

OR

· There is a winner in the Portland-Houston game (Oct. 14) AND

· New York lose to Kansas City (Oct. 15)

The second year club has surpassed almost every expectation prognosticated by the Union faithful, improving from 33 points in 2010 to 47 points thus far in 2011. One more point from either of the Union's next two games against Toronto FC and the New York Red Bulls will give Philadelphia the MLS record for biggest positive change over a season in the league's history.

But that success might lead the team into the wrong position to make a deep run in the playoffs. Jonathan Tannenwald, of Philly.com and The Goalkeeper, has used Twitter to try to warn Union fans about the dangers of finishing in first place in the Eastern Conference. As the standings currently are, the Union would potentially face FC Dallas in their first ever playoff series, a team that the Union have only taken two points away from in four games (0-2-2).

This season the Union managed to come back from a 2-0 deficit at PPL Park to tie the game at 2-2, but Sebastien Le Toux had to convert two penalties to make that happen. Philadelphia has scored only two goals from the run of play versus Dallas, which may be one of the hardest match ups for the Union that can be faced in the playoffs.

If the Union were to finish in second or third they would avoid playing any of the wild card teams in their first playoff series, and would instead face a team like Sporting Kansas City, the Columbus Crew, the Red Bulls or the Houston Dynamo. The Union drew SKC twice, split the season series versus the Crew, beat the Red Bulls in the first leg of their season series (they play their second game on October 20 at Red Bull Arena) and took four of a possible six points from the Dynamo.

MLS' 2011 playoff system has the four wild card teams playing in the first round of the playoffs, with the top seed (currently Dallas) playing the fourth seed (currently the Dynamo) and the second seed (Colorado Rapids) playing the third seed (the Red Bulls). The Western Conference champion, the Los Angeles Galaxy, will play the lowest remaining seeded wild card team after the first round, since the Galaxy are the Supporters Shield winners. The Eastern Conference's champion will face off against the other wild card team left, which, as previously stated, is potentially Dallas.

In a weak Eastern Conference, the Union's best chance at moving on in the playoffs is to avoid playing Dallas and staying within the teams that they haven proven they can beat. Building confidence in the playoffs is necessary for a team that has made its run based upon the youth on its roster. While Brian Carroll has a long history with MLS playoffs, much of the team's important players are relatively new to MLS, let alone the playoffs. Playin Dallas right away might be the worst situation that the Union can put themselves into facing.

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