As D.C. United prepare to enter the Knockout Round of the 2018 Audi MLS Cup Playoffs, the Black-and-Red will look to the playoff-tested members of their roster to help guide the team through the pressure of the postseason. Having been through the experience before, leaders like Bill Hamid, Steven Birnbaum, and Nick DeLeon know what it takes to make a deep playoff run.
Hamid and DeLeon have the most MLS postseason experience with the Black-and-Red. Hamid joined the team in 2009, but didn’t experience the playoffs until the team qualified again in 2012, the same year that DeLeon joined the squad. Since then, Hamid and DeLeon have gone through four playoff runs with D.C. United, making it as far as the Eastern Conference Finals. Birnbaum has featured in United’s last three playoff appearances since he joined the team in 2014.
Hamid, DeLeon, and Birnbaum have each been involved in a number of memorable moments in the postseason. One of the most unforgettable moments came in the Conference Semifinals in 2012 between United and rivals the New York Red Bulls. With the teams level coming out of the first leg, DeLeon scored the game-winning goal in the 88th minute of the second leg, knocking the Red Bulls out of the playoffs and taking the Black-and-Red to the Eastern Conference Finals.
In addition to Hamid, DeLeon, and Birnbaum, Wayne Rooney brings plenty of experience in high-intensity matches to the squad from his time in Europe. While the Premier League doesn’t have a playoff system, Rooney has played in a number of pressure-filled situations throughout his career, including a UEFA Champions League Final victory in 2008. The Black-and-Red have relied on his guidance and leadership since he joined the team in July, and will do so again as the team prepares for the Knockout Round and what they hope will be a deep playoff run.
For the players who have not experienced the postseason before, the 2018 Audi MLS Cup Playoffs will be a major opportunity to test their performance in high-stakes scenarios and to make their mark on United’s impressive postseason history. Whether the Black-and-Red are on the road or playing in front of their home crowd at Audi Field for the first round, the hungry newcomers and experienced leaders alike will all be ready to give their all for the squad.