In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, D.C. United took to the training pitch in a productive session to prepare for its first post-season match in five years against the New York Red Bulls on Saturday at RFK Stadium (8 p.m., NBC Sports Network).
As a result of the destruction caused by Sandy in New York and New Jersey, Commissioner Don Garber, in conjunction with D.C. United President and CEO Kevin Payne and Red Bulls GM Jerome de Bontin, reached a decision to switch home playoff matches in the two-leg total-goals series between United and the Red Bulls.
Although the Black-and-Red is playing at RFK sooner than expected – this Saturday as opposed to Wednesday, November 7 – D.C. players are unfazed and remain focused on the task at-hand.
“We’re not down about it, we’re not frustrated at all; it was a decision that was made and we got two games to play,” said United goalkeeper Bill Hamid, who tied a career-best eight saves in the regular season finale against the Chicago Fire. “We want two wins and that’s what we’re gonna fight for.”
Added Hamid, “I know it’s only a two-day notice, but…our fans are strong – they have faith in us, they support us through everything and we know that they’re going to come out there and continue jumping and cheering all game long.”
In relation to the slight competitive advantage that a home game in the second leg could provide, Head Coach Ben Olsen shared a unique perspective from DP Hamdi Salihi.
“…Hamdi the other day was like, ‘I don’t understand this system. The advantage goes to the team that plays first,’” said Olsen.
THE RIGHT MIND-SET
Despite the fact that some of the roster is lean on League playoff experience – only two out of United’s most recent starting XI have participated in an MLS post-season match – seasoned players such as defender Brandon McDonald have plenty of wisdom to share.
“Playoffs aren’t pretty soccer, it’s who’s going to bite their teeth the hardest and have the most grit on the pitch,” he said. “For us, we’ve got a fairly young team, but at the same time, they gotta grow up quick.”
If a key to post-season success is a stalwart defensive corps, then the transition to the playoffs should be a smooth one for the Black-and-Red, who went 5-0-2 in its final seven matches and only conceded five goals total in that stretch.
In sum, Hamid said: “We’re going to use that fight and that courage we brought game in and game out in the regular season to the playoffs.”
WRITING THEIR OWN HISTORY
As a part of a storied club that has captured four MLS Cups (1996, 1997, 1999, 2004), 2012’s squad is eager to carve out its own story in the midst of United’s first playoff berth since 2007.
Said Hamid: “It’s definitely time for us to start [writing our own history]. Like Chris [Pontius] said, D.C. United had a lot of success in the past, but that’s why Ben’s here. He can bring that experience into the locker room and give us that faith that we need, that courage and desire to work hard in the game.”
Olsen, a field player during United’s last post-season run five years ago and a member of the 1999 and 2004 championship teams, is also eager to move forward from “the good old days.”
“…that’s the fun part, seeing these guys believe in themselves and believe that they can write their own history and raise their own trophies,” Olsen said. “That’s what I want out of these guys – the past is the past here. I want to start creating the future and making some history of our own.”