WASHINGTON – Local television camera crews have descended on the training fields next to RFK Stadium throughout the week. D.C. United coach Ben Olsen had a considerable spring in his step as his team executed various drills. The team’s longer-tenured players have expounded to any willing media listeners about their tenures with the club to this point.
Yes, the excitement surrounding D.C.’s soccer team is palpable ahead of Saturday’s match against Columbus (7:30 pm, watch LIVE online), as United are a point away from making the MLS Cup playoffs for the first time in five years.
“There’s a good buzz about the group, a good buzz about the community supporting us now,” said Olsen, who was a midfielder for United the last time they made the postseason. “Everybody’s fresh and ready to go. It’s going to be good theater.”
United are expecting the first sellout of the season for Saturday night’s match (19,647) at a place where D.C. haven’t lost since March 10. Columbus and D.C. have split the season series to this point, with each side recording a 1-0 victory on their home pitch, but Saturday’s match likely will have a completely different feel.
Sixth-place Columbus will be fighting for their playoff lives, in desperate need of a win, while third-place D.C. are tantalizingly close to achieving something that’s eluded the league’s most successful franchise since 2007.
“I like where we are,” leading scorer Chris Pontius said. "I like where our mindset is heading into the match."
United would ensure a home playoff game with a win and even a draw would secure a spot, while a loss (pending Houston’s result against Philadelphia) would put the champagne on ice heading into the final regular-season match of the season against Chicago.
Goalkeeper Bill Hamid has recorded three shutouts in his previous four matches and, along with center back Dejan Jakovic and Pontius, is one of the longer-tenured players on the roster.
After a season of talking about making the playoffs, of impressive wins and embarrassing losses, the chance for United to break the drought is finally here.
“To be a part of the reason we make it to the playoffs is a pleasure and something I really care about,” said Hamid, the club’s first Homegrown player. “I feel like every last guy in there really treasures it.
"None of us have been to the playoffs with this team. It’s something that’s very special and we’re very serious about this and trying to go as far as possible when we get there. Right now, it’s all about taking care of business against Columbus and, if we get the three points in front of the home crowd, it should be a good celebration.”
On the mend
Captain Dwayne De Rosario, who has missed the last five matches with a grade III MCL sprain, was at the training fields Thursday doing some light jogging and dribbling. Defender Daniel Woolard (concussion) also was working out on the side along with forward Long Tan (ankle).
Center back Emiliano Dudar is back to full strength and training with the team, as is midfielder Raphael Augusto.