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Nashville SC will have to wait a little longer to officially lock up an MLS Cup playoff spot after failing to do so Saturday against the Philadelphia Union.

The club entered Saturday’s match with three scenarios that would put Nashville in the postseason. However, a draw – which Nashville has an MLS-best 16 of – wouldn’t do work, as all three scenarios involved an NSC win.

Although a victory wouldn’t have done much but keep Nashville in second place in the East as the club needed a win of its own plus a win from either Columbus and D.C. United, which both lost, or Toronto FC, which earned a draw.

“You know, at the end of the day we were playing the champions (Columbus Crew two matches ago) and the (Supporters’) Shield winners (Philadelphia) in successive games, so, certainly not [an] easy [stretch],” Nashville SC coach Gary Smith said.

When a playoff spot is locked up – which many expect should come Wednesday against FC Cincinnati, the worst team in the league – Nashville will become just the fifth club to qualify for the playoffs in its first two years in MLS.

The loss pushes the Union, who have 13 wins to NSC’s 10, ahead of Nashville in the Eastern Conference standings. Both clubs are tied with 49 points and have three matches left.

What Saturday’s loss showed is Nashville is often too dependent on a handful of players, and it just so happened that the club was without three of them and two worked in off the bench. 

Against Philadelphia, the Nashville attack looked out of sorts, only mustering eight total shots and one shot on target, while taking 16 fouls and three yellow cards.

“If you're going to trouble their goal, if you're going beat [the league’s top] teams, you've got to have a few players step forward and make the difference,” Smith said. “At the moment, we're far too reliant on CJ (Sapong) and Hany (Mukhtar).”

Mukhtar was serving a suspension for earning his fifth yellow card against Columbus, while Walker Zimmerman and Sapong came on as substitutions. Daniel Lovitz hasn’t played in three matches with a foot injury, and Dax McCarty didn’t make the trip after suffering an injury in practice the day before Saturday’s match.

Smith said he expects to have his full complement of players back for Wednesday’s match against FC Cincinnati.

“As far as health, for today and the week…we should be somewhere close to full-strength on Wednesday, I’m hoping,” Smith said. “And that in turn will offer the opportunity for some rotation, some rest for others to really rejuvenate the group for the final three games.”

Follow Michael Gallagher on Twitter @MGsports_