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The Chase: An early look at the Union's playoff hopes

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As teams in the East are slowly reaching the midway point of the season, we pause during the week off to see where the Philadelphia Union stand in race for the playoffs.

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The Union have been out ahead of the rest of the conference in games played for most of the season to this point, and thus it's been hard to get a good feel for exactly where the Union stack up in the East. As teams are catching up now and nearly all are past the halfway point in the season, we are starting to get a clearer look at what is needed to overcome the slow start and reach the playoffs in 2015.

Learning From the Past

The league has had a 34 game season for the past four years. Of those years the sixth place team has netted a wide range of points. Last year was the lowest point total of a sixth place team, with the Philadelphia Union only totaling 42 points. The other sixth place finishers had 49 (Chicago Fire, 2013), 52 (Columbus Crew SC, 2012), and 43 (Chicago, 2011).

Based on the last four years, the average point total for sixth place is 46.5 points. That is quite a stretch from the Union's current point total of nineteen. To be able to reach the 46.5 the Union would need to average almost two points per game the rest of the season, more than even the best teams in the league have averaged to this point.

Current Standings

D.C. United is out ahead of the Eastern Conference with 35 points in 21 games. Behind them it gets a lot more interesting. Spots two through six are only separated by a single point. Columbus, Orlando City, and the New England Revolution have 24 points, while Toronto FC and New York Red Bulls have 23. The playoff chasing teams are just behind them, New York City FC with 20 points, the Union with 19, Montreal Impact with 18, and with only 15 points Chicago brings up the bottom of the table.

There is still a difference in games played, so the best way of looking at the conference is in points per game. DC is still out ahead with 1.67. Toronto, despite currently sitting in fifth place are in second in this category with 1.44. New York Red Bulls also make a job, from sixth to third with 1.35, followed closely by a tie between Columbus and Orlando City at 1.33. The last playoff spot is caught between New England and Montreal who both are earning 1.2 points per game. The Union, currently earning 1 point per game sit behind New York City (1.11) as well, and only in front of Chicago (0.94).

Based on the points per game average to this point, the final standings will look a little like this:

DC United - 56.78
Toronto FC - 48.96
NY Red Bull - 45.9
Columbus Crew - 45.22
Orlando City - 45.22
New England Revolution - 40.8
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Montreal Impact - 40.8
New York City - 37.74
Philadelphia Union - 34

Using this way to project the end of season point totals the Union will need to shoot for a lower goal of 41 points. Even this would require a 1.466 points per game average over the last fifteen games, just above what Toronto has achieved to this point in the season.

Schedule From Here on Out

The good news is the Union have a favorable schedule the rest of the way.

There is only one game outside of the Eastern time zone, which is also the only long distance travel, to  face the San Jose Earthquakes. Limiting travel is always a good thing, allowing the players to keep to their normal routines without having to worry about long flights, timezone changes, and extended hotel stays.

The Union only have one week with three games in it, and it is coming up in July. The Portland Timbers and Toronto games have a midweek friendly with AFC Bournemouth sandwiched in between them. Expect to see a longer run out for reserves in this one. A trip to Portland is also avoided, where the Union have never won, losing twice and having a heart breaking late game draw last season. The Texas heat will also be avoided this season, with the Houston Dynamo visiting PPL in September.

On the flip side, the Union get the benefit of meeting three teams navigating a three game week of their own. The first is against Red Bull who will be traveling to Montreal and then home for a New York derby after playing the Union. The Orlando game right after that Red Bull match up is another one. Orlando will be finishing a three game week after hosting Columbus and traveling to Toronto. The Union may be the lesser of evils in that swing and it could be the game of the three Orlando decides to rest some of their starters. The last one is in September when Houston comes to visit. They have two home, in conference games after coming to Chester in the Colorado Rapids and Sporting Kansas City. Another match up which may be the one Houston chooses to rest some starters. Fine by me. The last trip to New York is also four days after NYRB plays in Toronto, so even though it's not three games in seven days, it will be short rest for them.

One other bonus for the Union is winning the jackpot of getting to play Toronto during the Gold Cup. Missing the duo of Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley will be a huge blow for Toronto and the Union will get to visit Toronto during that time. The best player of the big money three in Toronto in Sebastian Giovinco will still be available, but the Union will still be expected to take advantage of the Gold Cup gift.

Lastly, there are plenty of "six pointers" against the teams the Union will be in direct competition with for the last few playoff spots; New England (2), Montreal (1), Orlando City (2), and Columbus (1), There are also three match ups with the Union's closest rivals DC and New York Red Bulls - which always draws a big crowd at home and are close enough to garner a traveling crowd to cheer on the Union.

Even after a rough start to the season, a jam packed injury list, and Jim Curtin having to juggle keepers, the Union are far from out of the playoff picture. It is going to take a much better second half of the season, but it is there for the taking. Start winning back to back games here and there and avoid any type of losing streak in the weeks to come, and September and October could look a lot brighter.