D.C. United braces for stormy showdown at Red Bull Arena

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It all comes down to this.

D.C. United have gone through a yearlong odyssey taking the club from a team on the outside looking in at a playoff spot to the third-best record in MLS. After playing to a 1-1 draw with the New York Red Bulls in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference semifinal Saturday, United must claim victory at Red Bull Arena in tonight’s second leg (8 p.m., NBCSN) of the two-game, total-goals series to keep their season alive.

Should the match remain tied after 90 minutes, the teams will go through two 15-minute overtime periods and, if necessary, penalty kicks.

After having United and the Red Bulls swap home playoff dates in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, MLS still couldn’t avoid Mother Nature’s wrath — a nor’easter is projected to pass through New Jersey tonight, providing high winds, rain and even a little snow. Sounds fun.

If United are going to emerge from this match victorious, they likely will need a stellar game from All-Star midfielder-forward Chris Pontius. The centerpiece of today’s Times sports section if my in-depth profile of Pontius, tracing the player’s path from his California roots to his role as an emerging leader in the D.C. locker room. Here is how the article was presented in the print edition.

Ahead of the match, I present a bonus quote from Pontius that didn’t make it into the piece:

“I don’t think any of us has looked at each other and said, ‘Hey, that was fun.’ Everyone was like, ‘Let’s go make some noise in the playoffs.’ And I feel the same way. The team is playing for each other right now. It’s a different person contributing each game, and that’s a very dangerous team to stop.”

DE ROSARIO READY TO GO?

Despite being just eight weeks into what was projected as a 10- to 12-week recovery from a sprained MCL, United captain Dwayne De Rosario has been upgraded to probable and traveled with the team Tuesday to New Jersey.

De Rosario on Monday took part in full training, appearing to have no issues as he did quick, lateral movements in an agility drill before looking sharp in a high-octane possession game. He was in good spirits throughout the session, letting out an enthusiastic yelp when coach Ben Olsen called out his name for participation in the possession exercise.

OLSEN’S OPTIONS

Here is the roster I expect Olsen to go with tonight:

Starting 11: Hamid; Russell, McDonald, Jakovic, Korb; DeLeon, Kitchen, Saragosa, Pontius; Boskovic; Pajoy

Substitutes: Wills, Dudar, Woolard, Neal, De Rosario, Santos, Salihi

I’m expecting the same starting lineup from Saturday, with the exception of veteran Robbie Russell stepping in for suspended right back Andy Najar. I also wouldn’t be surprised to see Maicon Santos get the nod over Branko Boskovic.

But the real interesting matter here is the bench. Daniel Woolard (concussion) seems poised to dress for the first time since early August. And more notably, I think De Rosario will get a spot on the gameday roster as well. But how many minutes he can go remains a mystery.

FREE KICKS

— If United advance, they either will travel this weekend to face the No. 5 Houston Dynamo or host top-seeded Sporting Kansas City. (Houston leads SKC 2-0 going into tonight’s Game 2 at Kansas City.) In the former scenario, United would host Game 2 on Sunday, Nov. 18, at 4 p.m. In the latter situation, Game 1 at RFK Stadium would be this Saturday at 3:30 p.m. Dates for the away legs remain TBD.

— New York right back Brandon Barklage (plantar fascia injury) remains out. Designated players Rafa Marquez and Tim Cahill both are listed as probable with calf tightness.

— The referee tonight will be Mark Geiger, of the “The Geiger Show” fame.

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