United are hosting a Knockout Round match for the second straight year, and for the first time ever, the Black-and-Red play the Montreal Impact in the postseason. After drawing both matches against the French Canadians this year, once in D.C. and once north of the border, Ben Olsen’s side will look to advance out of the Knockout Round for the second year in a row when they host the Impact at RFK on Thursday, Oct. 27 at 7:30 PM.
Playing at home and possessing a wealth of postseason experience (it’s the fourth season in the last five years the Black-and-Red are in the playoffs), United certainly feel like they have the upper hand. “I think the last two years we’ve limped into the playoffs,” Olsen said. “But we have a different swagger and stride about us this year.”
Meanwhile, Montreal have clinched a postseason berth for only the third time in franchise history. After their thrilling 2-2 draw against cross-country foes Toronto FC, the Impact were riding high heading into Decision Day. The club had to deal with a minor crisis, however, when Didier Drogba reportedly told coach Mauro Biello that if he wasn’t going to start, he didn’t want to be in the matchday 18. After meeting with Biello and club president Joey Saputo, the situation appears to have been resolved and United will need to be on full alert for a potent Montreal attack, whether Drogba starts or comes in off the bench to capitalize on tired legs.
“Didier has accepted to assume the role that the head coach sees fit while contributing to the success of this club moving forward,” Saputo said in a statement. “With the players and the leadership that we have on this team, we are convinced that we can make a run at the MLS Cup.”
On their side of the ball, United will need to continue their red-hot scoring form. Since July 20, the Black-and-Red lead the league in goals scored with 35. Olsen and his staff have found success through their wing players; Lamar Neagle leads the team in goals, Lloyd Sam has posted a career high in assists and seven of Patrick Mullins’ eight goals have been assisted from a wide player. Montreal, though, play more through the middle, either through the creativity of Ignacio Piatti or the strength of Drogba. United’s central players like Rob Vincent, Marcelo, Steve Birnbaum and Bobby Boswell will need to clog the middle of the field and not allow Drogba or Piatti time and space on the ball.
But Olsen knows that the playoffs are a different animal than the regular season: “Once playoffs hit, it’s one game [at a time], and you still have to make sure everybody’s playing at their best to win. We need to make sure on Thursday we’re at our best."