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Tiebreaker scenarios abound
by Ridge Mahoney, October 21st, 2009 7AM

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[MLS] The fate of the 2009 MLS playoffs is rooted in a pair of quartets. There are four teams in contention to win the Western Conference or snag second place, and there four other teams - three of them from the Eastern Conference -- locked together on points dueling for one, or two, or three playoff spots.

Columbus has won the East with 49 points but could still be caught by Chivas USA (45) for the overall points title; Chivas USA is the only team with two games remaining. Those two teams have clinched playoff spots, as have Houston and Los Angeles (also with 45 points) and Seattle (44).

After those five, there is chaos.

Seven teams are in contention for three remaining spots. Chicago (42), sixth on overall points, is in second place in the East, but by losing Thursday to Chivas USA in its last game could be caught and perhaps knocked out of the playoffs. Toronto FC, New England, and D.C. United are the Eastern teams in pursuit; FC Dallas, winner of four straight, is in the chase as well. All have 39 points.

The Western permutations are covered separately. Here, we are concerned with which of the seven might survive.

Wedged in between Chicago and the gang of four is No. 7 Colorado (40 points), which can clinch a spot regardless of what else happens if it wins at Real Salt Lake (37) on Saturday. RSL can only qualify if it beats the Rapids and gets a lot of help.

From the 39-point quartet could come one, two, or three playoff teams. If Colorado and Chicago both win, only one team can emerge. Other combinations of results could produce multiple teams tied on points, necessitating tiebreakers.

TIEBREAKERS. Here is the order of tiebreakers for teams tied on points: (a) head-to-head results; (b) goal difference; (c) total goals.

If teams are still tied, the process repeats with only road games considered, and then home games. Last resort is a coin toss. (Don't even think about it.)

Of the four teams with 39 points, Toronto (2-1-3) leads the pack head-to-head with nine points. New England and FC Dallas (both 2-2-2) are next with eight, and D.C. United (1-2-3) brings up the rear with six points. That gives TFC - currently holding the eighth and final place -- control of its destiny in a four-way tie; the other teams can win and still be shut out.

This pecking order won't change on the final weekend of play among these four teams, since none of them play each other. TFC's place atop the tiebreaker assures it of a playoff spot if it beats New York at Giants Stadium Saturday.

That's the simple solution. There are many others.

Suppose D.C. United falters and the other three teams -- Toronto, New England and Dallas -- end up tied. In such a three-way tiebreaker, FC Dallas wins with a 2-1-1 record, followed by TFC (1-1-2) and the Revs (1-2-1).

The introduction of other teams could juggle the scenario further, as if Chicago loses its season finale to Chivas USA Thursday. The Fire would finish with 42 points and be subject to tiebreakers against any of the current 39-point quartet able to win the final game, and could lose second place to an Eastern rival as well. (D.C. United's two wins and a tie against Chicago put it in good stead if it catches the Fire.)

Get out those calculators!

Playoff Contenders:

TEAM
CHI
COL
FCD
DC
NE
RSL
TFC
Chicago
---
2-0-0
1-1-0
0-2-1
0-0-2
1-0-1
1-0-1
Colorado
0-2-0
---
1-1-1
1-1-0
0-0-2
1-0-1
1-1-0
FC Dallas
1-1-0
1-1-1 ---
0-1-1 1-1-0
1-1-0
1-0-1
D.C. United
2-0-1
1-1-0 1-0-1 ---
1-0-1
0-1-1
0-1-1
New England
0-0-2
0-0-2
1-1-0
1-0-1
---
1-1-0
0-1-1
Real Salt Lake
0-1-1
0-1-1 1-1-0 1-0-1
1-1-0
---
1-1-0
Toronto FC
0-1-1 1-1-0
0-1-1 1-0-1 1-0-1 1-1-0 ---

Standings:
EASTERN W L T GF GA P +/-
*Columbus 13 6 10 41 30 49 +11
Chicago 10 7 12 38 34 42 +4
----------------------------------
Toronto FC 10 10 9 37 41 39 -4
New England 10 10 9 32 37 39 -5
D.C. United 9 8 12 41 42 39 -1
+Kansas City 8 13 8 31 40 32 -9
+New York 4 19 6 22 47 18 -25
WESTERN W L T GF GA P +/-
*Los Angeles 11 6 12 34 31 45 +3
*Houston 12 8 9 36 27 45 +9
-----------------------------------
*Chivas USA 13 9 6 32 27 45 +5
*Seattle 11 7 11 36 28 44 +8
Colorado 10 9 10 42 35 40 +7
FC Dallas 11 12 6 49 45 39 +4
Real Salt Lake 10 12 7 40 35 37 +5
+San Jose 7 13 9 36 48 30 -12
*=Clinched playoff berth.
+=Eliminated from playoff contention.

Schedule:
Thursday, Oct. 22
Chivas USA at Chicago Fire, 8:00 p.m. ET
(TV: ESPN2, ESPN Deportes)
Saturday, Oct. 24
Toronto FC at New York, 7:30 p.m. ET
D.C. United at Kansas City, 8:30 p.m. ET
Colorado at Real Salt Lake, 9:00 p.m. ET
(TV: FSC, FSE)
FC Dallas at Seattle, 10:30 p.m. ET
San Jose at Los Angeles, 10:30 p.m. ET
Sunday, Oct. 25
Houston at Chivas USA, 3:00 p.m. ET
(TV: TeleFutura)
New England at Columbus, 5:00 p.m. ET
(ESPN2, ESPN Deportes)



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