It’s probably a good thing that D.C. United is on the road for its regular season finale Saturday in Chicago. R.F.K. Stadium could use the extra time recover. The old building on East Captiol Street was rocked by United supporters like it was when the playoffs were a given for the Black and Red.
United’s 3-2 win over the Columbus Crew last Saturday secured the team’s first playoff berth since 2007. A tie would have sufficed, but would not have been reflective of United’s commitment. It is a team that believes it is capable of more even with Dwayne De Rosario sidelined with a knee injury.
“It was like the old days. I don’t like to bring up the old days very often, but the feeling in that building felt like the good old days here,” said United head coach Ben Olsen. “I’d like to keep that around. We’re excited to continue to move on and have more moments like this. There is still work to be done.”
The pressure is on for United to wrap up second place in the Eastern Conference. A win or a tie against the Fire would accomplish that and give United a bye in the first round of the playoffs. A loss to the Fire could potentially push United down to fourth place and a one game play-in against the fifth place finisher on Wednesday.
“That four vs. five game is somewhere you don’t want to be. Being in that top three guarantees a home and away series and playing here is a fortress, so that only ups our chances. Being in the top three is huge for us,” said midfielder Nick DeLeon.
United is riding a six-game unbeaten streak that oddly coincides with De Rosario’s absence. The much talked about depth of the team is proving to be more than just talk. The game winning goal against the Crew was a perfect example with Branko Bosokovic and Lewis Neal coming off the bench to combine for the decisive moment.
In addition United has demonstrated a maturity and ability to grind out results. Conceding two goals, like United did against Columbus, is not representative of how the team has been playing. In the previous five games during its unbeaten run, United had only given up two goals and recorded three shutouts.
“Our defense has been amazing,” said goalkeeper Bill Hamid. “Our midfielders have been helping on the defensive end and our forwards have been tracking back at the top of our half. Defense wins championships and we have developed into a cohesive group.”
In the Chicago Fire, United will be facing a side in need of a win to land second place. In addition the Fire is trying to get its swagger back. The Fire has lost three of its last four matches including last week’s 1-0 defeat at New England.
The motivation for both teams to secure points sets up for another tense match. United seems more than ready. Over the journey of this season players have accepted new roles like Andy Najar at right back and Marcelo Saragosa playing alongside Perry Kitchen. There is even the possibility of De Rosario returning to the field this year.
“I would say there is probably a chance. I don’t know. And I don’t know if anybody knows right now where he’s at,” Olsen said.” He’s progressing quickly. I’ve told my trainers and doctors, ‘you tell me the day he is ready to go ‘cause I got a job to do and we can’t rely on that’, but it would sure be nice to see him back because that means we were very, very deep into the playoffs.”
It is a promising thought for United supporters, but there is still the regular season to complete.