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Already in MLS Cup playoffs, Union playing to avoid wild card

Now that the Union have secured a Major League Soccer playoff berth, the team's second piece of business is attempting to earn a first-round bye and avoiding a wild-card playoff.

The Union are currently tied for first place atop Major League Soccer's Eastern Conference. (Michael Bryant/Staff Photographer)
The Union are currently tied for first place atop Major League Soccer's Eastern Conference. (Michael Bryant/Staff Photographer)Read more

Now that the Union have secured a Major League Soccer playoff berth, the team's second piece of business is attempting to earn a first-round bye and avoiding a wild-card playoff.

In MLS, 10 of the 18 teams qualify for the playoffs. The top three teams in both the Eastern and Western Conferences will earn a first-round bye. The four teams with the next-highest point totals, regardless of conference, will earn an MLS Cup playoff spot and compete in the wild-card round.

For the Union, there are four teams in the Eastern Conference in the running for the top three spots, and all have one regular-season game left.

Sporting Kansas City and the Union are tied for first with 48 points. Columbus has 47. Houston (yes, Houston is in the Eastern Conference) has 46.

If the Union win Thursday's 8 p.m. game in Harrison, N.J., against the New York Red Bulls, they would earn a first-round bye.

As it is, the Union could win the division - or finish in fourth place. That is how close things are. Teams receive three points for a win and one for a tie.

In addition to the Union playing the New York Red Bulls on Thursday, Kansas City plays Saturday at D.C. United, Columbus plays Saturday at Chicago, and Houston plays Sunday at home against the Los Angeles Galaxy.

The easiest scenario is if Houston falls to a Galaxy team that has clinched the Supporters' Shield for the best regular-season record. If Houston loses, the top three teams will avoid the wild card.

Besides trying to avoid the wild card, the Union will attempt to win the Eastern Conference title.

If the Union and Kansas City end up tied for first and it comes down to the tiebreaker, the first is head-to-head. The teams played two draws this season.

The second tiebreaker is goal differential, and both have nine goals. The third is total goals, and there Kansas City leads the Union, 49-44.

What makes Thursday's game with New York even more important is that the Red Bulls are currently in position for the 10th and final playoff position and may need to win to qualify. But New York will be without striker Thierry Henry, who received a red card in Saturday's 2-0 loss to Kansas City.