For D.C. United, the drought is almost over.
With just a draw in either of their final two games, United will clinch their first playoff berth since 2007. A win in either match will ensure D.C. will finish no worse than fourth, guaranteeing the club at least one home playoff game. And two wins will lock United into a top-three spot and a bye to the conference semifinals.
In my preview of Saturday’s home finale against the Columbus Crew (7:30 p.m. on CSN), I dive into how United are approaching the match knowing they control their own destiny.
Unlike past seasons, there will be no conference cross-over in the playoffs this year. (In 2011, for example, New York and Colorado swapped conferences after winning the wild-card games.) So with United fighting for one of five Eastern Conference playoff spots, what does coach Ben Olsen think of the revised format?
“There have been so many different playoff formats in this league, I just kind of roll with the punches,” Olsen said. “It is what it is. I try not to get too involved in whether it’s right or wrong. But this is our reality, and we’ll go forward with it. I do like the East-West because down the stretch you get a bunch of teams fighting for the playoffs and you get rival games. I’ve always liked that.”
One point behind Houston for the final playoff spot, Columbus should be plenty feisty when it comes to RFK. While midseason acquisition Jairo Arrieta arrived in time to take part in these teams’ first two meetings of the year — a 1-0 Crew win in late July and a 1-0 United triumph two weeks later — playmaker Federico Higuain (three goals, six assists in 11 games) had not yet debuted.
“It’s completely changed them,” Olsen said. “Arrieta is a handful, Higuain has been a huge addition to them. He makes them click, so we’ll have to do a good job, but it’s not an easy thing. It’s not one guy — it’s a team concept back there.”
Added midfielder-forward Chris Pontius: “Higuain brings a whole ‘nother element to their team. We’re expecting them to come out and try to push the game. That being said, it’s our home field. We’re going to do much of the same. But at times, we need to know when to weather the storm and hold it down on defense.”
Here is the lineup I see Olsen rolling out Saturday:
Hamid; Najar, McDonald, Jakovic, Korb; DeLeon, Kitchen, Boskovic, Pontius; Pajoy, Salihi
As typically is the case, Olsen’s starting 11 is tough to predict. But I think the D.C. boss will go on the attack at home, using Branko Boskovic at the top of a diamond midfield and two true strikers, instead of the 4-5-1 alignment he has leaned on of late.
— Defender Emiliano Dudar (knee bone bruise) and midfielders Stephen King (hernia surgery), Lance Rozeboom (ACL surgery) and Raphael Augusto (quadriceps strain) all are listed as probable. Dwayne De Rosario (MCL sprain), Daniel Woolard (concussion), Long Tan (ankle sprain) and Josh Wolff (lower back disc herniation) remain out.
— With a yellow card Saturday, Andy Najar and Marcelo Saragosa will be suspended for United’s regular-season finale at Chicago. Yellow-card accumulation does not carry over to the playoffs, so both players are in the clear if they can avoid a caution against Columbus.
— The referee Saturday will be Edvin Jurisevic. United will be in all black, Columbus in all yellow.