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Eastern Conference Championship

Preview: Can DC finally end postseason hex?

DC-v-CLB, Oct. 20, 2012

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D.C. UNITED vs COLUMBUS CREW
RFK MEMORIAL STADIUM, Washington, D.C.
October 20, 2012 (WEEK 32, MLS Game #308)
7:30 p.m. ET (CSN-MA; FS-OH)

A huge match in the Eastern Conference kicks off Saturday evening when D.C. United entertain the Columbus Crew at RFK Stadium. For United, the mathematics is simple: A win, and the club will play in the MLS Cup Playoffs for the first time in five seasons, after extending their unbeaten streak to five games in a 1-0 win at Toronto FC. The Crew are in more dire straits, currently outside the top five and playoff positions following their 1-1 home draw with Sporting Kansas City before the international break.

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REFEREE: Edvin Jurisevic. AR1 (bench): Anthony Vasoli; AR2 (opposite): James Conlee; 4th: Jorge Gonzalez
MLS Career: 52 games; FC/gm: 22.5; Y/gm: 3.6; R: 4; pens: 7

INJURY REPORT

D.C. UNITED – OUT: DF Daniel Woolard (concussion-like symptoms); FW Josh Wolff (lower back disc herniation); MF Dwayne De Rosario (L knee MCL sprain); FW Long Tan (L ankle sprain); PROBABLE: MF Stephen King (inguinal hernia repair); MF Lance Rozeboom (L knee ACL tear); DF Emiliano Dudar (R knee bone bruise); MF Raphael Augusto (L quadriceps strain) …

COLUMBUS CREW – OUT: FW Tommy Heinemann (L knee surgery); GK William Hesmer (R hip surgery); MF Bernardo Anor (L knee ACL tear); QUESTIONABLE: MF Danny O'Rourke (L ankle sprain); DF Josh Williams (concussion)

INTERNATIONAL ABSENCES: none

SUSPENDED: none

WARNINGS:
SUSPENDED NEXT YELLOW CARD: DC: Dwayne De Rosario, Andy Najar, Marcelo Saragosa
SUSPENDED AFTER TWO YELLOW CARDS: DC: Emiliano Dudar, Chris Pontius, Dejan Jakovic, Bill Hamid, Chris Korb, Lionard Pajoy, Maicon Santos, Hamdi Salihi … CLB: Bernardo Anor, Chris Birchall, Tony Tchani, Sebastian Miranda, Dilly Duka, Justin Meram, Emilio Renteria

HEAD-TO-HEAD
ALL-TIME (53 meetings): United 24 wins (5 shootout), 77 goals … Crew 21 wins (0 shootout), 74 goals … Ties 8
AT RFK STADIUM (26 meetings): United 17 wins (3 shootout), 53 goals … Crew 6 wins (0 shootout), 34 goals … Ties 3

2012 (MLS): 7/21: CLB 1, DC 0 (Birchall 46); 8/4: DC 1, CLB 0 (Pontius 49)
•    The teams are meeting for the third time this season, each having taken 1-0 decisions on their home ground. The Crew won 1-0 at Crew Stadium on July 21, the game’s only goal scored by Chris Birchall in the opening minute of the second half. United returned the favor Aug. 4 at RFK Stadium, the only goal scored by Chris Pontius in the 49th minute.
•    The two teams split their two meetings last season, each winning at home. The Crew haven’t lost in Columbus to D.C. United since 2007, a span of five matches (4-0-1).
•    The Crew have come away with the full points on three of their last six trips to RFK Stadium, since 2007.
•    Coaches record: Ben Olsen vs. CLB: P5 W2 L3 T0 … Robert Warzycha vs. KC: P10 W7 L3 T0

LAST MEETING
•    The game's lone goal came in the 49th minute, after stellar work from rookie Nick DeLeon. After dribbling into the corner, he cut back on Crew defender Josh Williams, spun away and sent a cross into the box. Long Tan backheeled the ball, and Crew goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum batted it away. But the rebound bounced right to Chris Pontius, who deposited it into the goal.
•    D.C. UNITED (4-3-1-2): Bill Hamid - Chris Korb, Brandon McDonald, Emiliano Dudar, Daniel Woolard (Lewis Neal 63) - Nick DeLeon (Dejan Jakovic 79), Perry Kitchen, Chris Pontius - Branko Boskovic - Dwayne De Rosario, Long Tan (Maicon Santos 67).
•    COLUMBUS CREW (4-2-3-1): Andy Gruenebaum - Sebastian Miranda, Carlos Mendes, Chad Marshall, Josh Williams - Chris Birchall, Milovan Mirosevic (Tony Tchani 68) - Dilly Duka (Ethan Finlay 84), Eddie Gaven, Justin Meram (Emilio Renteria 66) - Jairo Arrieta.

D.C. UNITED
D.C. United extended their undefeated streak with a crucial victory, getting a late goal for a 1-0 win against Toronto FC on Oct. 6 at BMO Field. United moved into third place in the Eastern Conference with 54 points from 32 games.

LAST MATCH
•    The game's lone goal came in the 88th minute. TFC goalkeeper Milos Kocic mishandled a low shot from United forward Maicon Santos, leaving an easy opening for Hamdi Salihi to tap the ball into a wide-open goal.

WATCH: DC score late to top Reds

•    United head coach Ben Olsen made no changes to the team that reached a 1-1 draw with the Portland Timbers at Jeld-Wen Field.
•    D.C. UNITED (4-4-2): Bill Hamid - Andy Najar, Brandon McDonald, Dejan Jakovic, Chris Korb - Lewis Neal (Branko Boskovic 55), Marcelo Saragosa (Maicon Santos 77), Perry Kitchen, Nick DeLeon - Lionard Pajoy (Hamdi Salihi 64), Chris Pontius.

TEAM NEWS
•    With a win or a draw against Columbus, or a Houston loss vs. Philadelphia, United will clinch their first MLS Cup Playoffs berth since 2007.
•    United have now gone five games without a loss, moving from being outside the playoff positions when they started the undefeated run, to now being within two points of second place with two games to play.
•    “We found a way,” Olsen said. “We’re not saying we’re the top team in the league but there is something about us, with our spirit, where we are finding ways to win.”
•    The five-game unbeaten streak has also come since Dwayne De Rosario was lost for the season with a knee injury. United have kept three clean sheets during the streak – winning each game by a 1-0 scoreline.
•    “I felt a little bit like a thief,” Olsen said. “Maicon [Santos] makes a great play down the line and gets his shot on goal and Hamdi [Salihi] is there for the finish. Most of our games can go either way. We are just finding ways to win right now.”
•    Said defender Brandon McDonald: “For us it is about staying the course, we have grown so much together since the beginning of the year. In the beginning of the year, with that amount of pressure, we would probably have given away points. We are coming together slowly but surely and we’re doing it at the right time.”
•    Salihi scored his sixth goal of the season, his first since June 30. He had not scored in his previous five appearances (four as a substitute).
•    Three of Salihi’s goals have come against Toronto FC. Three of Salihi’s goals have also come after he has come on in a substitute role.
•    “It’s always good when you score. For me, it was something special because it was a long time,” Salihi said. “I didn’t play too much, didn’t score for long time and it’s not easy, but this is a period like every player can have happen in your career. It’s good when you trust in yourself, you believe in yourself and you continue to work.”
•    After maintaining the same lineup for a second consecutive game, Olsen made a quick change in the second half when he brought on Branko Boskovic into a central midfield role for Lewis Neal.
•    “At times it looked like in the first half we needed more in every aspect. We needed to move the ball a little bit quicker and we needed just a bit more energy overall. … I felt in the first half TFC sat back and made it difficult for us to break them down, we didn’t have a lot of ideas to do that,” said Olsen. “When we put Branko back to central midfield I feel that is when the game started to change.”

COLUMBUS CREW
The Columbus Crew gained another vital point in their bid for a postseason berth, getting another late goal for a 1-1 draw with Sporting Kansas City on Oct. 7 at Crew Stadium. The Crew remain in sixth place in the Eastern Conference with 49 points from 32 games, one point behind fifth-place Houston.

LAST MATCH
•    Sporting took the lead through C.J. Sapong in the 10th minute. He slipped unnoticed between defenders Chad Marshall and Sebastián Miranda and had plenty of space to snap a header onto the left post from a deflected cross off the foot of Graham Zusi, then finishing as the rebound fell kindly back to him.

WATCH: Crew score late point vs. KC

•    But there were once again late heroics for the Crew, leveling in the first minute of stoppage time. Emilio Rentería put in a cross from the right and Eddie Gaven got loose 10 yards from the near post, heading past goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen.
•    Crew head coach Robert Warzycha made one change to the team that scored a late goal for a 3-2 win against Philadelphia Union at Crew Stadium. Justin Meram came into the team for the suspended Danny O'Rourke.
•    COLUMBUS CREW (4-2-3-1): Andy Gruenebaum - Sebastian Miranda (Dilly Duka 84), Chad Marshall, Julius James, Josh Williams (Nemanja Vukovic 69) - Chris Birchall, Milovan Mirosevic - Justin Meram (Emilio Renteria 68), Federico Higuain, Eddie Gaven - Jairo Arrieta.

TEAM NEWS
•    The draw kept the Crew outside of the top five in the Eastern Conference and the playoff positions with two games to play. After the trip to D.C., Columbus finishes with a home game vs. Toronto FC.
•    “Obviously we are a few points behind D.C. and a point behind Houston for now. We have to win our games and hope for the best. We play every time to win, so it doesn’t matter. We’re going to go to D.C. and try to win, as we do every single time we step on the field,” said Crew head coach Robert Warzycha.
•    It was the sixth time over the last nine games the Crew have scored a goal in the 86th minute or later to secure points – including a third time in stoppage time. Before the draw with KC, the previous five were all victories.
•    “We give up that first goal then we start playing pretty well,” Eddie Gaven said. “That’s what actually happened. It would be nice if we can come out stronger and not have such a nervous last half-hour. At the same time, we’ll take goals any time they come.” Said goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum: “It was a great result for us tonight, but unfortunately, we’re running out of time.”
•    Gaven scored his eighth goal of the season, matching his single-season career-high, which he set in 2005 at age 19 with the MetroStars.
•    “We’re playing here at home, it was a game where we played pretty well except for the first 10 minutes or so where we go ourselves down in a hole...there’s things we can take from [the game] for sure in terms of the things we did well, but obviously there are some things we have to work on,” said Gaven. “Probably the biggest thing is working on coming out stronger in the first 10 minutes.”
•    With Danny O’Rourke suspended, Justin Meram made his first start since Aug. 22, coming into a wide position with Chris Birchall dropping back into a deep-lying central role.
•    “At this point in the season every guy is one kick away from being subbed from injury,” Warzycha said. “[The players] are all playing with some kind of injury; Federico [Higuain] is playing with an injury, Jairo [Arrieta] is too, Chad Marshall and Julius James – you name it.”
•    After scoring three goals and adding six assists over a five-game span from Aug. 19-Sept. 1, Federico Higuaín was kept off the scoresheet for a sixth consecutive match.
•    “We’re a better possession team,” Warzycha said. “He absorbs more players when he holds the ball, giving the right passes at the right time with the right weight. He makes it easier for the other players.”
•    “He’s still been very, very good for us, even if he hasn’t been getting the points, in terms of his passing and how he opens up space for the other guys, myself included,” Gaven said. “ … If he keeps playing the way he is and we keep trying to find him in good areas on the field, he’s going to start getting goals and assists.