It’s beautifully simple for D.C. United – earn a win or draw on Saturday versus the visiting Columbus Crew and the club secures a post-season berth for the first time since 2007. To do it in front of the team’s home supporters – where United is 11-1-4 this season – would be all the more sweeter.
“It’s a great opportunity for a young coach, it’s a great opportunity for a young team to be in a game that really means something,” said Head Coach Ben Olsen, who was on the field as a player the last time United was in the playoffs.
Despite losing last year’s League MVP in Dwayne De Rosario in early September, Olsen’s squad has rallied together and reeled off four wins and a draw over their last five matches. Each of those five games, however, has come against teams out of playoff contention and Olsen and his players expect a much tougher battle come Saturday.
“We haven’t played a team with the quality Columbus has in [the last] five games,” said Olsen. “That’s the reality. We’re going to have to be sharper in a lot of aspects. Not only are we going to have to be better defensively, we’re going to have to be better offensively, too.”
Columbus, perhaps more than any other team in MLS, made significant improvements to its roster over the summer with the additions of forward Jairo Arrieta and midfielder Federico Higuain. Arrieta (8G/4A in 16 games) has proven himself a dangerous threat in the final third, while Higuain (3G/6A in 11 games) has been pulling the strings in the midfield. The Crew is the only team in the East currently on the outside looking in who still have a shot at the post-season, but they may very well need to win both of their final games to secure a playoff spot.
“They’re going to come flying,” said team captain Chris Pontius of Saturday’s opponents. “They have to win this game – we know that. There’s going to be times when they’re throwing numbers at us, so we have to be smart about how many numbers we attack with.”
While the Black-and-Red has had up and downs defensively this season, it’s been the team’s front-to-back defensive commitment that has it finding success at this late stage in the season. Led by goalkeeper Bill Hamid – and a consistent back four of Andy Najar, Brandon McDonald, Dejan Jakovic, and Chris Korb – United has allowed only two goals in its previous five games, while earning three 1-0 shutout wins during the same stretch.
At RFK Stadium, D.C. has allowed just 15 goals all season (while scoring 34) and will be buoyed by what is expected to be a sellout crowd of 19,647 Saturday evening.
“The fans deserve this opportunity as well,” said Hamid of the club’s ardent supporters. “They’ve been with us through thick and thin and they deserve to celebrate with us. As long as we bring it and keep the right mindset and stay organized, they’ll be celebrating with us.”
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