The date of D.C. United’s last MLS Cup playoff match. The team fell 1-0 to the Chicago Fire a week earlier and, while a second half revival had drawn United level in the return match at RFK Stadium, Christian Gomez’s late goal was disallowed and United fell 2-3 on aggregate and the team’s season was over.
The result stunned the Black-and-Red, but it was easy for the club that had enjoyed so much recent success to take comfort that more big games would lie directly ahead. United had qualified for the MLS Cup Playoffs four consecutive seasons, winning the MLS Cup in 2004 and Supporters' Shields in 2006 and 2007, and boasted a veteran roster accustomed to the spoils of being the League's premier side. Those League games would not take place as planned, however, as, though United won the U.S. Open Cup in 2008 and hosted the 2009 Open Cup final, D.C. failed to qualify for MLS post-season play each of the next four seasons.
Current manager Ben Olsen was a star midfielder on that 2007 team. Though the Chicago loss is a distant memory for him, big games and the opportunity they provide is at the forefront of his mind as he prepares the 2012 D.C. United roster for a match Saturday that could return the proud franchise to the MLS Cup Playoffs. More so than anyone, he knows the challenge that lies ahead. He's been preparing United's young roster for such a test since the team first gathered prior to this season.
"This game is about opportunity, an opportunity built by our successes to date," said Olsen after the team’s Tuesday training session. "Our young players and I, as a young head coach, have another opportunity to show what we're about Saturday night.”
Olsen's line-up on Saturday evening will not include a single player from the 2007 roster, the four-year playoff absence having led to significant roster upheaval. That said, United's youthful exuberance has meshed well with the veteran leadership that has produced the most wins (16) in a single season since the 2007 squad (when the League schedule was just 30 games).
A draw on Saturday will be enough to clinch a playoff spot, while a win will ensure a post-season match at RFK Stadium. Saturday’s game is not a ‘must-win’ for United, but it is for the visiting Columbus Crew. A playoff-like atmosphere is absolutely expected and Olsen says his men are ready.
“It's games like these that allow us to test ourselves in pressure-packed situations,” he says. “If we succeed, this match will be nothing but a dress rehearsal for even more important games in the coming weeks. We'll be ready to go.”