WASHINGTON – One more match.
Ninety minutes are all that separate D.C. United from the end of their historically bad MLS campaign, which was juxtaposed by unequivocal joy when the club won its third US Open Cup title earlier this month.
Should D.C. finish the season with a win Sunday at RFK Stadium against Houston (1:30 pm ET, NBCSN), the result’s effects would be threefold:
1) United (3-23-7) would avoid setting the record for fewest wins in an MLS season, though they’re guaranteed to at least tie it.
2) They would snap their 11-match winless streak.
3) They would exact revenge against the team that ended their season one match shy of MLS Cup in 2012 and, in turn, eliminate Houston from playoff contention.
“That’s extra incentive,” United midfielder Chris Pontius said following Friday’s training session. “We had a chance to host an MLS Cup here, so I certainly remember that game last year.”
After D.C. outlasted the New York Red Bulls in the Conference Semifinals in 2012, the Dynamo beat D.C. in Houston, 3-1, before playing to a 1-1 draw at RFK to advance to the Eastern Conference Championship.
This year, D.C. opened the season with a 2-0 loss in Houston and were beaten 4-0 by the Dynamo at RFK in May. As if Houston’s dominance of United this year didn’t already make D.C.’s task daunting enough, the Dynamo must win or draw to keep their postseason hopes alive.
“Having them knock us out, it’s extra motivation to beat them and maybe spoil their season a little bit and help us end on a high note,” said United defender Conor Shanosky.
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In attempting to beat Houston, United will be without their minutes leader, Perry Kitchen, who is suspended on yellow card accumulation. They’ll also be missing John Thorrington, Dejan Jakovic and Ethan White, all of whom are injured.
“Houston’s very much a team that’s in your face, will throw numbers at you and I think they’ll be doing that from the first whistle,” Pontius said. “They suck to play against because they make it very hard, very difficult for you.
"I never have gone into a Houston game thinking, ‘Oh, this is going to be an easy game.’ You know you’re going to be walking out of there with some bruises.”
Regardless of how D.C.’s final match turns out, the offseason will likely be a welcome sight for many of United’s players eager to turn the page toward 2014.
“It’s been a very trying season,” Pontius said. “It’s been tough mentally, tough physically. Every season’s going to be tough physically, but I think mentally it’s been the hardest year of my career, certainly. I hate losing and unfortunately there’s been far too much of that this year.”