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The last time D.C. United took the field in a competitive MLS game, they did their playoff chances a world of good. In a crucial showdown against the Montreal Impact on August 31, the Black-and-Red repeatedly punched their opponents in the mouth over the first 45 minutes of the game, picking up a 3-0 win that massively helped ease the pressure on a playoff race that was rapidly tightening up.
After a two-week break for international play, United get back in action this Sunday to start the stretch of their final four games of the season. Though the win against the Impact helped increase the margin of error, United will need to pick up some points against the Portland Timbers, Seattle Sounders, New York Red Bulls, and FC Cincinnati to ensure their playoff spot, especially if they want to host their first-round game.
United will greatly benefit from the return of Wayne Rooney for the final four games of the regular season. The captain has missed several games recently, due to being home with his family in England, then illness, and finally because of a red-card suspension. Rooney hasn't quite hit the same heights that he did in 2018, but the former Manchester United man still leads the team in goals and assists; he will be crucial to any deep playoff run this year.
In his stead, Ola Kamara has come in and quickly showed why D.C. paid big money for the Norweigan striker. His first-half brace against the Impact was just what the doctor ordered for a United side desperate for three points. Whatever Ben Olsen has planned for his two strikers over the next four games, the head coach will be confident that either is capable of supplying timely goals when needed.
The final stretch of games will provide the Black-and-Red with a playoff-like atmosphere, facing off against three teams that will likely be participating in MLS' second season. A trip to Portland this Sunday against a Timbers side teetering on the edge of a playoff spot will provide a stern test for Olsen's team.
Likewise, the Sounders' first-ever visit to Audi Field on September 22 will pit two probable playoff teams against each other. United don't have the best record against the Sounders since Seattle's introduction into the league in 2009, but Audi Field could provide the difference in a game of two equally matched teams.
Thanks to the win over Montreal, United currently occupy the fourth spot in the Eastern Conference, the last spot that hosts a playoff game in the first round of the playoffs. The Red Bulls sit a point behind with a game in hand, but the September 29 showdown at Red Bull Arena could be the ultimate decider between who hosts the playoff game as the No. 4 seed.
If all else fails, United host Cincinnati on the final day of the season. Barring a miracle, the expansion side will set the MLS record for most goals conceded in a season, having already let 72 goals in this year. Back in July, United took advantage of Cincy's leaky backline, netting a 4-1 win in Ohio. A similar result on the final day of the season could be a nice boost for United heading into the playoffs.
A second consecutive playoff appearance is far from a certainty for United, but the final four games of the season will give them plenty of opportunities to secure their spot. And a strong finish to the season for the Black-and-Red could set them up nicely to get past the first round of playoffs for the first time since 2015.