United have a chance to seize control of the sixth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference if they can get a result Saturday night. Standing in their way will be a Western Conference-leading FC Dallas team that has no qualms playing on the road.
Over the past month, United and Dallas have led the league in goals scored and defense respectively. On paper, Saturday’s match looks to be a battle of strength versus strength, but while the United attack has lit up the scoreboard at Audi Field, it could be the Black-and-Red defense that makes the difference.
Since opening Audi Field, opponents have been limited to 13 goals over 12 games at United's new home, an average of 1.08 goals per game.
"Since the stadium opened, it's been about making sure that we protect Audi Field," head coach Ben Olsen said. "We want to make it a really tough place to play for opponents, and, more times than not, get three points."
Goalkeeper Bill Hamid has manned the net for United in eight of United’s 12 matches at Audi Field, compiling a 6-1-1 record with 34 saves and two shutouts. Along with his backline, the Black-and-Red have managed to snuff out opponents’ attacking options with relative efficiency at home.
“We are playing well as a team, as a unit. We have good chemistry, we’re together,” Hamid said after United’s 5-0 win against the Montreal Impact. “The coaching staff, the team, the medical staff, everybody, we’re all together in this. The camaraderie is good and let’s hope this continues.”
Hamid’s counterpart, Jesse Gonzalez, has been no slouch either. Since missing returning from injury at the end of August, Gonzalez has posted three shutouts in Dallas’ last five games including a five-save performance in their 2-0 win over Orlando City.
Gonzalez will have to adjust without one of Dallas’ premier defenders in Reggie Cannon, though, who was called up to the U.S. Men’s National Team for their matches against Columbia and Peru. Cannon had started every match for FC Dallas this season, and has been the first-choice right back for one of the league’s best defenses, which will miss the young defender’s poise on the flank.
Despite missing one of their best players, Dallas will still be difficult test for the Black-and-Red, who need every point they can get as they push for the playoffs.
"We have three good teams coming to the building over the next few weeks in Dallas, Toronto, and New York City," Olsen said. "They’re all as good as they come in this league so it will be a huge test… but we’ll be up for it.”