With crucial seeding at stake, D.C. United on Saturday faced a playoff team for the first time since Dwayne De Rosario went down with a knee injury more than a month ago. And just as they have throughout this unbeaten run without their talisman, United found a way to get the result they needed.
With a 1-1 draw at the Chicago Fire, United (17-10-7) clinched the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference, avoiding the midweek knockout game and drawing a juicy semifinal matchup with the New York Red Bulls, renewing the Atlantic Cup rivalry after the series was split 1-1-1 this season.
United now will open the playoffs at Red Bull Arena next Saturday or Sunday, then host RFK Stadium’s first postseason game since 2007 on Wednesday, Nov. 7, at 8 p.m. Buy your tickets here.
After the match, I had a brief conversation with United midfielder-forward Chris Pontius. On the Red Bulls matchup, he said, “I wanted this,” and went on to claim that United’s “grittiness” gives them an advantage over New York. I’ll have more on the upcoming playoff series in Monday’s paper.
Here are some notes and observations from United’s draw Saturday:
— Lionard Pajoy can be maddening at times, but he came up big against Chicago. His 50th-minute goal made up for another game during which his touch in the final third otherwise left something to be desired, and his work rate was key to forcing Chicago’s back line into rushed distribution. As a result, D.C. was able to enjoy some nice spells of possession.
— Bill Hamid was simply on another level. While U.S. under-23 teammate Sean Johnson allowed a questionable goal at the other end, Hamid pulled out a slew of show-stopping saves, including several as United clung to the draw late. If he maintains this form in the playoffs, D.C. will be a team no one wants to face.
— With United at 5-0-2 since De Rosario’s injury, Ben Olsen may have landed himself a spot on the three-man shortlist for MLS Coach of the Year. But I think it’s safe to say the honor itself will go to San Jose’s Frank Yallop.