Like other leagues during the coronavirus pandemic, MLS has expanded the playoff field this year. The league was already quite generous, inviting 14 out of 26 teams. Four slots were added this summer.
In the Eastern Conference, 10 out of 14 teams will advance. In the Western Conference there are eight out of twelve (all of which were determined). Only Cincinnati is out of the competition in the east, and five teams are fighting for the last two places.
United’s path is treacherous: aside from losing to Montreal (7-13-2 and a three-game loss), DC needs two more teams to lose or draw.
All seven Eastern Conference games begin at 3:40 p.m. on Sunday, creating a two-hour period of surveillance and concern for fans and front office officials, if not the players and coaches. United interim coach Chad Ashton said he has no plans to pay any attention to the results until his game ends.
“Our mindset is our match – and win our match,” said Ashton. “Basically, that’s all that matters. If we don’t take care of ours, nothing else matters. “
With 23 points apiece, Montreal and Chicago could end the drama by winning their matches and taking the last two spots. The Fire is at home against New York City FC (36 points).
Atlanta (22) is next in the overall standings and will visit Columbus (38). Miami and DC have 21 points, but the expansion team (6-13-3) lead the first tiebreaker (most wins) and have the easier task: a home game against Cincinnati (16 points).
“There are times [in the regular season] where you are likely to be happy with a draw, ”said Ashton. “In this scenario, there is only one goal for us, and that is to win the game and drop everything else as it falls.”
United have not done well in such pressures lately.
This summer, the Back Tournament in Florida, DC, was lost 1-0, as it would take at least one draw with Montreal to reach the knockout stage of the MLS.
This weekend, however, United controls only part of the puzzle.
“We have to believe it,” said defender Frédéric Brillant. “I am firmly convinced that we have the chance. We’re going to do everything we can to win this game and we want to see that. “
Since last month’s coaching change, United have played with greater confidence and performed better despite an injury mishap that plagued the team for months. Under Ashton, a longtime assistant who replaced Ben Olsen, DC, DC are 3-2-1 – more wins than 16 games under Olsen this season.
Ashton plans to play Arriola for part of the second half.
“He looked great in training,” said Ashton. “We’ll see how the game goes, but we expect him to play a role in the game and be an important factor in the outcome of the game.”
Brilliant returns from a suspension with the yellow card. United missed him dearly last Sunday when he wasted two goals in the first half and conceded Teal Bunbury’s late winners in a 4-3 New England loss.
Striker Julian Gressel will be re-enlisted after missing the New England game because of the birth of his first child. Defenders Joseph Mora (face injury) and Chris Odoi-Atsem (concussion) are commonplace, the team said.
Even if United don’t extend their season, Ashton would like the team to make further progress after a few months.
“The guys gave me everything they can,” said Ashton. “We have to prove to ourselves that not only are we good enough to win these games, but we also know that we can win these games. It’s a matter of trust and a matter of faith. “
Montreal Impact at DC United
Live stream: dcunited.com.
Records: impact 7-13-2, 23 points; United 5-11-6, 21.