SHOOTING FOR SECOND
A 2-1 win on Wednesday night over the Philadelphia Union was enough for Sporting Kansas City to secure first place in the Eastern Conference. With a win or a draw against the third-place Chicago Fire (56 points) at Toyota Park on Saturday (4pm ET, NBC Sports Network), D.C. United (57 points) would clinch the second seed in the East.
Despite not being able to play for a chance to finish atop the table on Saturday, the Black-and-Red has not shifted its tactical mentality.
Said United goalkeeper Bill Hamid: “The game plan is always three points and that’s still the plan. That’s never changed. We want to go in there and get three points and remain as high as possible going into the playoffs.”
The last time the Black-and-Red matched up against Chicago on August 22, United claimed a convincing 4-2 victory with seven different D.C. players contributing offensively. It was the only instance all season that any team had put up four goals against the Fire, and just one other club (the Philadelphia Union on October 3) had found net three times in one game against Chicago.
With a 5-0-1 mark over the previous six games, United enters its final match with the best record in the League during that stretch. Said Black-and-Red defender Dejan Jakovic: “We’re a tough team. I don’t think a lot of teams want to play against us right now.”
College teammates, MLS Combine roommates and Eastern adversaries Nick DeLeon and the Chicago Fire’s Austin Berry cannot seem to shake each other. It is only fitting, then, that the two 2012 Rookie of the Year favorites will match up against each other in a season finale with serious post-season implications on the line.
DeLeon, who recently broke D.C. United’s rookie goal-scoring record with his sixth strike last weekend, is peaking at the just right time.
“I feel like I’m playing the best soccer I have all year. And I’m just going to keep growing off of that, each performance and just keep getting better and better as far as we move [through the playoffs].”
His pace and form have not gone unnoticed by the coaching staff either.
“I thought [DeLeon] started well … and now I think he’s playing some of his best ball of the year,” said Assistant Coach Chad Ashton. “He’s playing with a lot of confidence right now, his decision-making is very good right now and he’s a handful for whoever is across from him.”
Although the club had not clinched a playoff berth since 2007 before last Saturday’s 3-2 win over the Columbus Crew, one D.C. defender, Robbie Russell, has advanced to the post-season every year he has played in the League. His experience in the high-pressure playoff environment will prove to be crucial in United’s run to the MLS Cup.
On what it takes to find playoff success, Russell said: “Sometimes it’s momentum, sometimes it’s a lucky break, sometimes it’s the way you ended the season. What you want to do is take whatever is thrown at you and make it what gets you deep into the playoffs. I think what’s good about this team is that anything that’s thrown at us, we respond.”