After a struggling to win on the road for much of the season, D.C. United proved that they are a team finding their stride by becoming the only road team to find success in the first leg of the Conference Semifinals. With their 2-0 win, United are in the driver's seat for the home leg of their playoff matchup with the MetroStars. The teams will meet again this Saturday night at RFK Stadium. Kick-off for the match is set for 7 p.m., unlike the 7:30 p.m. start time for a majority of the Black-and-Red home games this season.
Although the Atlantic Cup holders will certainly take nothing for granted, a defeat on aggregate goals is somewhat unlikely, as the MetroStars have only once been able to defeat a home-standing United by more than one goal - a 3-1 reversal at RFK Stadium on September 28, 1997 - with United holding six two-goal or better wins.
In the other Eastern Conference pairing, Columbus dropped a 1-0 result to the New England Revolution as American University product Avery John found net in the 25th minute to hold serve at Gillette Stadium, setting up great possibilities for the return match at Columbus Crew Stadium. Should United advance, a win or draw by New England guarantees a second home playoff match for the Black-and-Red, as they would host the Eastern Conference Final on Nov. 6 with a 7 p.m. ET kickoff. Should Columbus win by a goal, the teams will face off in a 30-minute golden-goal period (two 15 minute halves) followed by a penalty-kick shootout to determine who advances. If Columbus wins by more than one goal, or prevails in the above scenario, D.C. United will travel west to Columbus for the Conference Final, with a 7:30 p.m. ET kickoff on Nov. 6.
Unfortunately, even if United advance, they will not learn the venue of their match until the following day, as Columbus and New England don't kick off until 5 p.m. ET on Sunday.
In the Western Conference, both home teams came out on the positive side of the ledger in last weekend's action. Defending champion and No. 4 seed San Jose asserted Spartan Stadium as one of the more menacing venues in MLS as they downed Western Conference champions Kansas City 2-0, on the strength of a quirky goal from Dwayne De Rosario and a corner kick goal from Craig Waibel. On the other side of the bracket, Colorado's Joe Cannon continued his incredible form from the regular season to help the Rapids capitalize on a goal from Jean-Phillipe Peguero to take a 1-0 lead in the aggregate matchup between the two and three seeds.
The scenarios are similar for the second leg of each pairing. Kansas City needs to win by at least two to force an overtime period, but if San Jose prevails, they will still be the visitor for the Western Conference Final. Should Kansas City win the series, the Conference Final will be Nov. 5 at 8:30 p.m. ET. If the Earthquakes advance, the front offices of both Colorado and Los Angeles will kick into high gear, as they await the results of the late game on Saturday. The winner of the series will host, with Colorado hosting on Nov. 5 at 9:30 p.m. ET and Los Angeles hosting on Nov. 6 at 10 p.m. ET.
We are United
Fans of the Black-and-Red have always made RFK Stadium one of the most difficult venues in Major League Soccer to play in, with United's 9-2-4 record this year as proof. But with the playoffs at hand against a bitter rival, even the most passionate fans of D.C. United stepped it up a notch.
More than 500 fans from D.C. United's supporters groups - La Norte, La Barra Brava and the Screaming Eagles - along with several members of the front office staff made the trip north to support the team. Although stripped of their trademark bouncing stands, the supporters definitely made their presence known, in both color and song.
Several banners decorated the railing throughout Giants Stadium, giving the away venue a decidedly comfortable feel. The three supporters groups united in voice, chanting and singing throughout the match, and were rewarded with a pair of stellar strikes. Both goals scored by D.C. United came in front of the traveling contingent of supporters and both Earnie Stewart and Alecko Eskandarian made a point of including the throng in their celebration.
"It was tremendous - I'd already spoken to some people in La Barra Brava and they said 'We're going to be down there with a lot of people,' but you have to see it," said Stewart of the fan's support. "When you run out on the field and see all those people, it gives you such a warm feeling. It gives you a sense of urgency, too, that you have to make the best of that situation. Luckily for us and for our fans, we could do just that."
After the match, the team saluted the supporters group for what they thought was the final time before boarding the bus for the long trip home. As the team stopped at a rest stop along I-95, they were greeted by an improbable impromptu receiving party, as a busload of supporters from the game had also chosen the same rest stop.
The supporters group applauded the team as they disembarked to stretch their legs. The players milled around with the traveling contingent, being congratulated on their win against the MetroStars before both buses got back on the road.
In Saturday's return leg, members of all three supporters groups will be in full voice, as they cheer on the Black-and-Red to victory. Lots of great seats still remain for the match. For more information on United's Blackout Playoff packages, visit the Tickets section of dcunited.com or call 202-587-5000.
Daddies on the defense
There was a notable absence from United's bench on Saturday, but with an excellent reason. United defender Ezra Hendrickson missed the match to play proud papa. He returned to Los Angeles to be with his wife, who had just given birth to daughter Xavia Hernandez - 6 lbs., 6 oz.; 17" tall - on Oct. 20 at 1:13 p.m. PT. Hendrickson left training as soon as he got the call last week, but unfortunately was unable to make it back in time to witness his daughter's birth, as he was stuck on a layover in Dallas.
Hendrickson is the second member of the Black-and-Red defensive unit to become a father on the season, following Mike Petke. Petke's son, Dylan Michael, was born on Sept. 23 at 4:25 p.m. ET. Tipping the scales at 7 lbs. 7 oz. and 20" tall, Dylan would receive an early birthday present from dad, as the elder Petke scored the game-winning goal in United's season finale, giving D.C. home-field advantage. Papa celebrated the goal for his son, cradling an imaginary baby in his arms and tapping his heart.