HARRISON, N.J. – Mere feet away from a white board in D.C. United’s locker room that displayed a simple, and censored, message – “Congrats boys! Well [expletive] done!!” – following their heart-pounding 1-0 victory against New York at Red Bull Arena on Thursday night, United president and CEO Kevin Payne didn’t hold back when describing his emotions.
“We are the most successful team in this history of this league,” Payne said. “Not New York, not LA, not anybody else. Us. And tonight, these guys lived up to that success.
“It was pretty dramatic. My heart was beating pretty fast.”
Hard to blame him. After five years of missing the postseason, United have persevered through injuries, schedule changes, postponements and tactical shifts to reach the Eastern Conference Championship. The Houston Dynamo loom on Sunday.
“This organization has been through some tough years and these fans have suffered,” United coach Ben Olsen said. “They were spoiled early and we went through a drought. This gives them hope. This gives them excitement.”
United – who were playing Thursday without their first-choice outside backs, without the 2011 MLS MVP in Dwayne De Rosario and, for 20 minutes, without starting goalkeeper Bill Hamid – still managed to win on the road for the sixth time this season.
“This team has tremendous self-belief,” Payne said. “They’re a tough team to play against. I wouldn’t count this team out, that’s for sure.”
Since De Rosario’s injury, United are 6-0-3. Seemingly, a new individual has stepped up and played the part of hero from match to match during the nine-game stretch.
“There’s a lot of loose talk about players’ salaries and things like that that people want to judge teams by,” Payne said. “[Historically] we have a great record at D.C. United. By far the best record of any team in this league, and it’s nice to live up to that again.”
Mirroring the blue-collared approach of their 35-year-old coach, United have completely bought in since De Rosario’s injury. Throughout various postgame interviews, the word character was mentioned roughly 10 times as D.C. appear incredibly dangerous at the moment – a club that believes it’s capable of accomplishing anything, regardless of the circumstances.
“It feels like a roller coaster ride,” said backup goalkeeper Joe Willis, who saved Kenny Cooper’s second penalty kick attempt in the 72nd minute. “Sometimes you get that feeling like it’s you against the world. I think our team, we have a lot of character. I think everyone has stepped up and done their jobs.”