Why 4th is SO much better than 5th in MLS standings

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Pay special attention to this while examining the on-going playoff race, especially as it concerns the tightly packed East:

Clubs and supporters have recognized all year that a new playoff format made a top-three finish highly preferable to a fourth- or fifth-place finish. Those bottom finishers among the five play an extra match – or as my NBC colleague Brian Dunseth put it the other night during the important Eastern Conference contest in Kansas City, “It puts one more match between you and MLS Cup.”

So the math is pretty simple: the higher finish the better, clearly – but be sure to avoid those last two spots at all costs.

Well, allow me to throw one more wrinkle in this playoff crinkle: Finishing fourth is highly preferable to finishing fifth.

Why? If your club is forced to deal with that mid-week, winner-take-all one-gamer, the new “wildcard” playoff match in each conference, far, far better to host than to travel. (The fourth place side hosts the match.)

(MORE: Who has the easiest schedule remaining in the East?)

The regular season concludes with three matches on Sunday, Oct. 28. Wild-card matches (4th place vs. 5th place) will be played on the following Wednesday (Oct. 31) or Thursday (Nov. 1).

The conference semifinal first leg matches will begin that Saturday (Nov. 3) or and that Sunday (Nov. 4).

So, consider that as you look at he current Eastern Conference standings:

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