Union get bye in MLS Cup Playoffs, will start postseason October 30

The Philadelphia Union are guaranteed a bye in the MLS Cup Playoffs thanks to Peter Nowak's old club.

The Chicago Fire, which Nowak played for from their inception in 1998 through 2002, beat the Columbus Crew, 3-2, at Toyota Park in Bridgeview, Ill., on Saturday night.

This means that the Union can finish no worst than third in the Eastern Conference.

In addition, I have confirmation from the Union that their first playoff game will take place on Sunday, October 30.

Yes, that is the same day that the Eagles host the Cowboys in a nationally-televised prime time meeting at Lincoln Financial Field.

And yes, it is possible that both games will take place at the same time.

Here is how the scenarios currently stand:

Sporting Kansas City clinched the No. 1 seed in the East by beating D.C. United, 1-0, at RFK Stadium in Washington. That means Kansas City will face the highest remaining wild card seed after those playoff games are contested early next week.

There is one remaining game that will determine the Union's final fate. If the Houston Dynamo beat the Los Angeles Galaxy on Sunday night at Robertson Stadium in Houston, they will jump over the Union into second place in the East.

That would set up a conference semifinal series between the Union and Dynamo, starting at PPL Park on or Sunday, October 30. The second leg of the series would be played at Robertson Stadium on either Wednesday, November 3 or Thursday, November 4.

If the Dynamo tie or lose to the Galaxy, the Union would face the Columbus Crew. That series would start in Columbus on October 30, then move to PPL Park for the second leg.

Houston-Los Angeles will air nationally on Galavision at 7 p.m. Eastern. Check your listings to find out what channel Galavision is on your cable system - it varies by carrier and to some degree I believe it also varies by what part of the region you are in.

Speaking of the Galaxy, the Western Conference was not settled yet either coming into the night. Real Salt Lake and FC Dallas were tied for third place on 52 points, with RSL holding the first tiebreaker on head-to-head results.

Real Salt Lake was only able to get a draw at home against the Portland Timbers. Just as that game ended, FC Dallas and the San Jose Earthquakes kicked off at Buck Shaw Stadium.

Perhaps as a sign that it wanted to avoid Seattle in the playoffs, FC Dallas rested many of its starters and ended up losing, 4-2.

So FC Dallas gets the top wild-card seed. Should it win that game, it will go to the Eastern Conference brakcet, and have an easier conference semifinal matchup against Sporting Kansas City.

Now, about those potential kickoff times on October 30. ESPN2 has broadcast slots at 4:00 p.m. Eastern and 9:00 p.m. Eastern. It would not surprise me if the Union get the 4:00 kickoff time. That would avoid a conflict with the Eagles game.

But there is also a possbility that the Union could get the 9:00 p.m. slot, especially if they play Houston.

One of the games that would be appealing for that slot would be the first leg of the Seattle-Real Salt Lake series. Seattle is MLS' best market for local TV ratings, and they wouldn't have as much interest in an Eagles-Cowboys NFL game.

But it's been announced that the Seattle-RSL series will be played on Saturday, October 29 and Wednesday, November 2. Fox Soccer Channel will carry the first leg as part of a doubleheader that night, and ESPN2 will carry the second leg.

I've been told that there is a possibility of ESPN2 broadcasting a doubleheader on November 2. If the Union play Columbus, we could ESPN2 pick up the Union's home leg of the series on that date.

That would give MLS the opportunity to showcase two of its most telegenic atmospheres on the same night.

Because Seattle will play its weekend match on the Saturday, it's more likely that the Los Angeles Galaxy will be in the Sunday night time slot. MLS might not mind that, since L.A. doesn't have an NFL team.

But the league could run into a tricky situation if the Galaxy end up playing New York. If that happens, an East Coast game will have to kick off at 9 p.m. Eastern.

I still think it makes more sense for the Union to be in the afternoon game. If the Union play at 9:00, it's a safe bet that MLS will not get the ratings from the Philadelphia TV market that it would very much like to have.

But my point is that you should at least consider it possible that the Union and Eagles will be playing at the same time.

Here are the current playoff matchups as of the end of Saturday's action.

In the conference semi-final round, the higher seed hosts the second game:

Wild Card Round

WC4. Houston Dynamo at WC1. FC Dallas
WC3. New York Red Bulls at WC2. Colorado Rapids

I was told on Thursday that the tenative plan was for both Wild Card games to be played on Wednesday, October 26. ESPN2 will televise one game (presumably whichever one New York is in), and Fox Soccer Channel will televise the other, with staggered kickoff times so they do not overlap.

Conference Semifinals

Eastern Conference

E1. Sporting Kansas City vs. WC1. FC Dallas, WC2. Colorado, or WC3. New York
E2. Philadelphia Union vs. E3. Columbus Crew 

Western Conference

W1. Los Angeles Galaxy vs. WC2. Colorado, WC3. New York or WC4. Houston
W2. Seattle Sounders vs. W3. Real Salt Lake