The Major League Soccer league table suggests D.C. United is in a good position to secure three points Saturday in Toronto. Recent history suggests that predicting results in MLS is not that easy.
United has every reason to be confident. The team is riding a four-game unbeaten streak and suddenly showing more resolve on the road. In Uniteds last three matches away from RFK Stadium they have snared four points including last Saturdays 1-1 draw in Portland.
We have to find ways now to kill games off, said United head coach Ben Olsen. We've done a pretty good job of that as of late, but it will help if we can find a way now to get the second goal when we do have the lead and teams are pushing.
United also has reasons to be concerned. The pain of missing the playoffs the last four seasons is real. On the last day of the regular season in both 2008 and 2009 United had its playoffs dreams squashed. Last year United unraveled over the final month of the season with Chris Pontius sidelined by a broken leg.
More recently United has witnessed Chicago, Houston, and Columbus fall to teams below them in the standings. Indeed this playoff push is not for the faint of heart. Only first place Kansas City has clinched a playoff spot in the east and only five points separate second place New York from sixth place Columbus.
In short Saturdays game against Toronto FC is not without anxiety for the Black and Red. Toronto FC is winless in its last eleven games and is starving for success. TFC should also be angry with four goals conceded in each of its last two games to add to league-high total of 59 goals against for the season.
While it is reasonable to assume that Toronto is due for some measure of happiness in front of its passionate and knowledgeable supporters, it seldom has gone that way. Two years ago United added to Torontos legacy of woe when Julius James scored in a 1-0 win that triggered a chorus of the Twisted Sister song Were Not Going To take It from fans at BMO Field.
Thats history and United has to be concerned with the present. The eerie timing of Dwayne De Rosarios season ending injury, similar to when Pontius was lost last year, unsettled supporters afraid of a similar ending, but the United is demonstrating a resolve made possible by its depth and versatility.
In its last two road matches United has gone with a 4-5-1 formation with Lionard Pajoy as the lone forward up top. Reserve midfielder Lewis Neal is starting to take a more prominent role. He has been used on the flank and as a holding midfielder. Against Portland Chris Pontius shifted into a withdrawn striker role behind Pajoy.
With all its possibilities on the team sheet, United can also take confidence in the possibilities should this tight Eastern Conference come down to a tiebreaker. The first two tiebreakers are total goals scored and goal differential. Only New York has scored more goals than United and only New York and Kansas City has a better goal differential.
I have been here since the 2009 season and we have yet to make the playoffs, said United goalkeeper Bill Hamid. When I was a kid coming to the games, they (United) were always in the playoffs. I want to do my part to make it happen again.