WASHINGTON — D.C. United will find themselves in the awkward position of rooting for their rival Philadelphia Union on Wednesday night.
A victory by Philadelphia at Sporting Kansas City would open the door for United to capture the top spot in the Eastern Conference with a victory, a scenario that seemed highly unlikely just a month ago when the club stood in fifth place in the Eastern Conference.
A loss by D.C. in Saturday's regular-season finale in Chicago, however, could mean falling into the Knockout Round.
“It’s crazy that with a few results one way, a few results the other way, we could finish in first or finish in fourth,” midfielder Perry Kitchen said following Tuesday afternoon’s training session.
Even if Sporting KC lock up the top seed with a result against Philly, United made it clear they want to avoid winding up in fourth place and make an appearance in that single-elimination Knockout Round match.
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“I don’t even want to think about fourth or fifth place,” D.C. goalkeeper Bill Hamid said. “We want to finish as high as possible. Let the other teams fight that out.”
After two days off to relax and reflect on this past Saturday’s playoff-clinching triumph, confidence was high among a majority of the players who spoke Tuesday.
And why shouldn’t confidence be brimming? United have won five of six and, with the exception of captain Dwayne De Rosario, are fully healthy. Left back Daniel Woolard trained at full speed while donning head gear, as did the recently injured Long Tan and defender Emiliano Dudar.
“Today, we had a good-spirited session and we’ll look to rev it up this week, then taper and try to get a result against a good Chicago team,” United manager Ben Olsen said on Tuesday. “There are still so many scenarios, but what we have to do doesn’t change.”
As intense as D.C.’s training sessions figure to be from now on, Olsen used the weekend to unwind a bit and enjoy himself and his family.
“I had two days off. My wife threw a birthday party for my daughter and I actually really enjoyed that on Sunday as opposed to moping around all morning,” he said with a smile. “I was actually, I think, a good father and good husband for at least one day this season.”
Nick Cammarota covers D.C. United for MLSsoccer.com