WASHINGTON – The drought is over.
For the first time in five years, D.C. United are going to the playoffs. Unfortunately for Crew fans, Columbus won’t be joining them.
The Crew were eliminated from the Eastern Conference playoff race after United pulled out 3-2 victory Saturday night at RFK Stadium in a passionate, dynamic, well-played match and Houston defeated Philadelphia.
United midfielder Marcelo Saragosa’s goal in the 59th minute leveled the score and assured D.C. a spot in the postseason before substitute Lewis Neal’s breakaway goal in stoppage time put the exclamation point on the celebration, much to the joy of the sellout crowd of 19,647 in the nation’s capital. Eddie Gaven and Jairo Arrieta scored for Columbus.
With the victory, United (17-10-6, 57 points) extended their unbeaten streak to six matches since captain Dwayne De Rosario went down with a knee injury and their home unbeaten streak to 16 matches. The Crew (14-12-7, 49), meanwhile, haven’t won on the road in four tries and trail Houston by four points while United rest solely in second.
Neal’s goal came courtesy of an assist from fellow substitute Branko Boskovic. He beat Crew goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum in a race to the ball and sent it into an open net to send the fans at RFK home happy.
Saragosa’s first goal of the season was set up when Brandon McDonald was first to a loose ball after a free kick by Andy Najar. McDonald got enough on his pass to spring Saragosa’s one-timer that curled inside Gruenebaum’s left post.
Twice Columbus had a one-goal lead, but failed to hold on in a loss that ended their postseason hopes.
The Crew quieted the raucous crowd in the seventh minute when Gaven guided a bouncing ball into the net for his ninth goal of the season. The ball was initially headed by forward Arrieta before it deflected to Gaven for the momentum-gaining strike.
In the 39th minute, United midfielder Nick DeLeon netted the equalizer and set the club rookie record for goals in a season (6) by tapping in Lionard Pajoy’s rebound.
Columbus answered two minutes later when Arrieta brilliantly deposited his ninth of the season. The Costa Rican switched feet in front of centerback Dejan Jakovic and created enough space to release a nasty right-footer that smacked the left post then ping-ponged off Hamid’s back and into the net.
The match marks the first time United allowed more than one goal in a match since Aug. 29 against New York.
For Columbus, center back Chad Marshall was a late scratch as Danny O’Rourke shifted to centerback and Chris Birchall came into the lineup as a defensive midfielder.
The Crew will finish their season by playing host to Toronto FC on Sunday, missing the playoffs for this first time in four seasons, while United will travel to Chicago next Saturday with playoff seeding still very much in flux.
Lineups and boxscore (MLSsoccer.com)
Opta Chalkboard (MLSsoccer.com)