WASHINGTON – Vamos, vamos United, esta noche tenemos que ganaaaarrrrr…

D.C. United supporters have been singing that classic for more than a quarter-century, since way back in year one at RFK Stadium. And on Wednesday night it was literally true, at least when it comes to the Black-and-Red’s Audi 2021 MLS Cup Playoffs hopes.

Tired, injury-wracked, smarting from Saturday’s 6-0 beating from NYCFC, winless in the month of October, drastically out of form compared to their Atlantic Cup enemies the red-hot New York Red Bulls, D.C. badly needed a victory in this six-pointer at Audi Field if the postseason was to remain a realistic possibility.

Thanks to an early goal from homegrown Kevin Paredes and about 80 minutes of white-knuckle, backs-to-the-wall defending, they got it. Even if RBNY uncorked 17 shots and more than doubled their hosts’ expected goals number. Even if Bill Hamid had to produce five saves, a couple of them exemplary. Even if their head coach Hernan Losada admitted it was “probably not the nicest game to watch,” and a knock forced the lively Paredes off the pitch half an hour after his goal, yet another casualty to add to the list.

“Once again, like the rest of the season, we start the game with players who were not at 100%,” noted Losada postgame, referring to the limited minutes influential starters Paul Arriola and Andy Najar could provide.

“Paul, Andy and Kevin needed to go out. So we need to be creative, we need to always adapt to circumstances. They told me in Europe during my [coaching] course that you need to expect the unexpected and you need to be able to adapt … that's what we did the whole year and the whole season, adapting to situations that you don't expect, to make substitutions that you don't expect. Many times we have a plan, but we need to adapt and change it in the middle of the game due to physical problems and new injuries. So actually I take my hat off to this team.”

Much has been written and said about the impact of Losada’s arrival, the new ideas and sensibilities that have blown through the club in the Argentine’s first year in charge. This, however, was a fall evening redolent with the old qualities of “Bennyball,” the gritty, resourceful ethos of his predecessor Ben Olsen.

With both sides built around the concepts of pressing and counter-pressing, this was a percussive duel, full of long balls and duels and reactions and recovery runs. The visitors probably deserved at least a point for their efforts, but with a game in hand, RBNY’s desperation for it didn’t quite match D.C.’s in the end.

United’s reward for the narrow win? A more or less identical scenario against Columbus on Saturday (7:30 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+).

“A tough game based on duels, based on second balls,” said Losada, “and you need to be tougher than them if you want to have a chance to win … Now 48 hours to recover and go again. So extremely happy today for what the players give tonight. Probably not the nicest game to watch, but you know what you have to do if you want to beat a team like New York Red Bulls, and we did.

“We're going to have to make it with what we have, and we will go for it.”


Losada has spoken repeatedly of what he considers a talent deficit on his roster compared to leading MLS contenders and he did so again on Wednesday, pointing to the top-shelf weapons his Red Bulls counterpart Gerhard Struber possesses like Patryk Klimala, Dru Yearwood and Fabio. It’s an unsubtle set of hints about his desire for future reinforcements, yet in the meantime, his intriguing project needs playoff qualification as proof of concept.

Somehow, he seems to have conjured up the right spirit in the squad he so clearly wants to upgrade.

“We have faith. We have belief. We walk into every game wanting to win, and that's the first step,” said Hamid. “So we’re going to lay it out all on the line. We were told to go as hard as possible until you can't go anymore and then you get subbed off, and everybody does that. Everybody gives everything they can until they can't anymore. So we're going to go until the wheels fall off.

“But right now we're in a spot. We're much ahead of where everybody expected us to be this season, but that's not enough for us. The goal is just to get into the playoffs and make a run as far as we can, and we're going to do that. We're going to do our best to do that.”

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