D.C. United entered their regular season finale against the Montreal Impactafternoon with plenty to play for.
Despite having already clinched the top seed in the east, there was much at stake. A win — combined with a LA Galaxy loss in their encounter with the Seattle Sounders — would potentially put United in prime position to host MLS Cup, should they make it there. And just as importantly, D.C. were keen on avoiding any sort of letdown, eager to roll into the playoffs with as much momentum as possible.
Seattle downed the Galaxy 2-0 to hold up their end of the bargain, but United couldn’t quite get the job done, battling to a 1-1 draw on at the rainy Stade Saputo. Nevertheless, D.C. displayed much of the grit that’s brought them this far in 2014, battling back and nabbing a late equalizer and nearly claiming the victory on a last-minute Eddie Johnson attempt.
"Overall it wasn’t the sharpest night for us,” said United head coach Ben Olsen after the match, "but I’m happy we battled back to get a draw on the road. I think you set yourself up to succeed in the playoffs and that goal woke us up a little bit. Once the goal hit, we started to bring the full hunger that`s necessary to win games in this league.
“In the second half we played some good stuff and were a little bit unlucky not to get that win. It gave us the right momentum to start the playoffs and we’re looking forward to next weekend."
D.C. entered the match missing a few key ingredients of their winning formula. Davy Arnaud was on the mend after picking up an ankle injury, while midfielder Chris Pontius and outside back Taylor Kemp stayed in D.C. after picking up minor ailments during the week. Some had speculated that Chris Rolfe - who’s been recovering from a broken arm for a little over a month - would find his way onto Ben Olsen’s bench, but that wasn’t the case either.
Arnaud’s absence was particularly painful for United, who missed their midfield destroyer badly. DC finished the regular season having gone 17-4-4 in games where Arnaud and Perry Kitchen both featured in United’s midfield, while they went 0-5-4 in matches where one or both of those pieces was missing.
In their place, Olsen tapped on a mix of starters and reserves, slotting Jared Jeffrey and homegrown product Collin Martin into midfield and plugging in Chris Korb into the back line. Though United looked decent through both halves - out-possessing the Impact and generating plenty of scoring opportunities - they lacked a finishing touch and were undone by a Marco Di Vaio tally midway through the first half.
"Obviously we wanted to win, but we fought back and got a tie,” said D.C. captain Bobby Boswell. "Under the circumstances, knowing what happened in the other game, I think we obviously wanted to win to jump ahead of LA. We had a little bit of a shaky start. I think we started off the first couple of minutes okay and then we had a couple of giveaways in bad spots. After the goal, we kind of turned it on a little more."
Though disappointing, the result is hardly a dagger to a D.C. side that’s more than tripled their point total from 2013. D.C. finished strong and easily could’ve emerged victorious, points they’ll likely take a bit of comfort in during the trip home- after which they’ll set their sights on next weekend's Eastern Conference semifinals.
"We’re going to exhale for a second and take a day off,” said Olsen. "We’ll show up with a playoff mentality, have a good week of training and prepare for whoever is next."