WASHINGTON – For as wild as the race to the end of the 2013 MLS regular season has been, Friday night’s primetime match between D.C. United and Sporting Kansas City (8 pm ET; NBCSN) will feature two clubs that already know their fate.
Sporting KC, winners of four of their last six, will play in the postseason. It’s just a matter of what seed they claim in the crowded Eastern Conference playoffs race. United, winless in 10 MLS matches, have been out of contention for a while.
But when Ben Olsen’s club visits Sporting Park, they’ll be playing for their first win on the road this MLS season. They’ll be playing to avoid setting the league record for the fewest wins. And, for some, they’ll be playing for spots on next year’s roster.
“There are jobs to be played for, there’s contracts to be played for,” midfielder Lewis Neal told reporters on Thursday. “I’m certainly trying to do my best to try and keep myself at D.C. United. That goes along with a lot of the other guys, as well, whose contracts are up.”
Following Thursday’s training session at RFK Stadium, Olsen – after an impromptu shooting competition with his assistant coaches – said the organization is always judging the performances of their players, regardless of the situation.
“Whether or not guys are using these [final two] games as tryouts, that’s something you’d have to ask them,” he said. “I would hope the priority is to show well and win games every week. I don’t think anything should really change in how they approach a game and how their performance is going to be judged.”
United haven’t beaten Kansas City in six meetings, with D.C.’s last win against Sporting coming back in May 2010. This year, however, one of United’s 16 points came against KC in a 1-1 draw at RFK Stadium on May 19.
“We’re just focused on going out there and performing well, and winning, obviously,” said D.C. midfielder Perry Kitchen. “We won two huge road games in Open Cup, so we know we can do it.”
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Just because United haven’t been in the playoff hunt, however, doesn’t mean Olsen isn’t paying attention to the rest of the races around the league.
“It’s an interesting league right now,” he said. “It seems like with the [international] call-ups and CONCACAF and injuries and suspensions at this time of the year, it’s always an interesting dynamic down the stretch. We’re looking forward to it even though we’re not in the postseason.
“I think the drama of these things is always a positive thing for the league and I’m looking forward to our two games, but also to enjoying the race down the stretch for teams looking to get in and for the Supporters’ Shield.”
Nick Cammarota covers D.C. United for MLSsoccer.com.