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Union playoff spot likely to be decided in final days

AMASS 10 WINS, and be a shoo-in for the postseason. This is what the Union technical staff believed and subsequently expressed to its young corps prior to the 2011 season.

Sebastien Le Toux has scored 10 goals and recorded eight assists in 31 games so far this season. (Matt Slocum/AP file photo)
Sebastien Le Toux has scored 10 goals and recorded eight assists in 31 games so far this season. (Matt Slocum/AP file photo)Read more

AMASS 10 WINS, and be a shoo-in for the postseason.

This is what the Union technical staff believed and subsequently expressed to its young corps prior to the 2011 season.

It was also a realistic assumption, considering MLS' Eastern Conference always has played Junior Miss to the mighty West. So much so that the league - while brass never would formally admit it - altered its playoff format this year in all appearances to give Eastern teams a fairer shake. This year, the top three teams in each conference qualify for the playoffs, along with four wild cards based on point totals. Until this season, the top eight teams, regardless of conference, made the playoffs with the bulk of those berths going to clubs on the other side of the Mississippi.

So, with this new system, the notion of the Union earning at least 10 wins (30 points), in addition to some draws, and earning a playoff spot was not that asinine.

Except . . .

"It appears it's not going to be enough," Union boss Peter Nowak noted during his weekly press conference on Wednesday. "Before the season we all made predictions and we all thought that 10 wins would make a very good season, that the rest would take care of itself. But we are standing in front of the door [for entrance to the postseason], the door is open, we just need to make the necessary steps to walk through."

The race for top billing in the East is playing out like your grandma's old quilt - somewhat irritating and granting zero breathing room. Specifically, among top five teams in the East, Kansas City (11-9-12) currently rules the roost with 45 points. But the Union (10-7-14) and Columbus (12-12-8) are on its heels with 44 points, while New York (9-7-16) and Houston (10-9-13) each have 43.

The Union hold one game in hand over all the aforementioned, but the race looks like it will last until the final full day of matches on Oct. 22. Should you need a hypothetical, if the playoffs started today, the Union, as the No. 5 seed, would be on the way to Columbus, No. 6, to start the first of two aggregate matches in the conference semifinals, beginning either Oct. 29 or Oct. 30. The return leg at PPL Park would be either Nov. 2 or Nov. 3.

The current scenarios are vast with so many teams trying to lock up the last seven spots (Los Angeles, Seattle and Real Salt Lake already have qualified). But for the Union, the most concrete is that with a win over Seattle tomorrow, it would clinch a spot, if Houston's Oct. 14 match against Portland doesn't end in a draw (and ideally, Portland takes it) and the Red Bulls flop to Kansas City at Livestrong Park on Oct. 15.

"I still like to think we control our own destiny and as much as we appreciate help from other teams, we can't rely on it," said defender Sheanon Williams. "It's crucial for us to continue to get points. Obviously it'd be great to get three from here out but it's really important to at least get a point out of these last few games to stay ahead of the pack."

Basically, like Al Davis once eloquently put it: "Just win, baby."

Castrol confusion

The latest Castrol Index came out yesterday, and frankly I am stumped. If you don't know what it is, here's a quick synopsis: Basically Castrol, the motor oil giant, partnered with MLS to create a rating system powered by stats personnel at Opta Inc., to evaluate each how each player's performance directly helps - or hurts - his team's results. The study claims that it analyzes an average of 1,800 player movements per match. Every month, the list is updated and released.

How is it possible that Sebastien Le Toux, the Union's Energizer Bunny, doesn't even rank within the top 50 players this month, given all he has done over a 4-week period? Le Toux ranks 55th overall and is the fourth best Union player on the master list behind Carlos Valdes (16th), Sheanon Williams (32nd) and Danny Califf (37th).

In September, Le Toux netted seven goals in six matches, logging well over 540 minutes en route to MLS Player of the Month. Furthermore, he's still the only player on the Union who has played in every match this season.

Someone riddle me that.

Odds and endlines

Speaking of Le Toux, here's what Peter Nowak had to say about his forward after he wrapped up POTM, the first for both Le Toux and the franchise: "He, 100 percent, deserves it, but I think the whole group believes that the work we put together was going to pay off sooner or later and it's the same with him. [During his early season slump] we stayed positive, he stayed positive . . . and he believed that the work he put together was going to pay off. As soon as he scored from the run of play against Real Salt Lake, the pressure came off his shoulders and he was able to play" . . .

Despite nursing a sprained right ankle, Zac MacMath will be in net against Seattle, a member of the technical staff told the Daily News. The Union is down two netminders, with Faryd Mondragon's fractured finger and Thorne Holder's second concussion this season. Chase Harrison, up from USL affiliate Harrisburg, will serve as backup . . . And finally, a big buena suerte goes out to the La Salle women's soccer program. The Explorers have a pivotal match vs. nationally ranked Atlantic 10 rival Dayton tonight at McCarthy Stadium (7 p.m.). The Explorers (10-0-1) are the only Division I program in the country (men or women) not to have allowed a goal this season and have outscored their opponents, 23-0.