WASHINGTON – A pair of teams keen on claiming conference glory met at RFK Stadium on Friday evening as D.C. United welcomed Sporting Kansas City, and though neither found it, United were able to celebrate a tremendous turnaround and claim the East's first playoff berth.
Both teams struggled to break through as the two sides played to an entertaining, scrappy 0-0 draw in front of a rain-soaked crowd. The result pushed United’s point total to 52, good enough to guarantee a playoff berth one year removed from a historically bad season in which they claimed just 16 points.
D.C. (15-9-7) entered the game riding high, six points clear of third-place Sporting (13-11-7) needing only a draw to make the postseason. KC had lost five of their last six matches heading in, and badly needed points to stay in contention for the CONCACAF Champions League berth that will likely end up awarded to the team atop the Eastern Conference at season’s end.
Both teams started the match energetically, Sporting moving the ball with fluidity while United seemed content to sit back and counter, an approach that provided the home side with a trifecta of scoring opportunities in the opening half hour.
Ten minutes in, Chris Pontius – making his first league start since returning from off-season surgery on his hamstring – gave United their first good look. The speedy midfielder collected the ball on the flank, dribbling towards goal and cutting to his right just outside the box, firing a deflected shot into the arms of SKC 'keeper Andy Gruenebaum.
Three minutes later, Luis Silva combined with Fabian Espindola for another chance – but the Argentine’s low, driven attempt across the face of goal from eight yards out skidded a yard outside the far post. In the 28th minute, United outside back Taylor Kemp dispossessed Sporting midfielder Antonio Dovale and gave D.C. their best shot at nabbing the opener in the first 45 – streaking down the flank and connecting with Silva – who in turn played it back to Espindola at the top of the box. The former RSL man kept his attempt on frame, but Gruenenbaum was up to the task, stopping the attempt with a kick save.
KC moved the ball well in the opening half but were rewarded sparingly for outpossessing United and outpassing them in every area of the pitch. Sporting only managed to put a single shot on frame, a harmless long-range drive by Dovale minutes from the halftime whistle.
The second half had a cagey feel to it as both teams jostled for scoring chances. Sean Franklin, Silva and Espindola combined in the 58th minute on a lovely one-touch sequence, though Espindola’s eventual attempt would once again roll wide of the far post.
Sporting came breathtakingly close to scoring in the 76th minute: Dom Dwyer nodded a swung-in cross across the face of goal to a wide-open C.J. Sapong, who flicked the service goalward only to find his attempt pounced on expertly by United 'keeper Bill Hamid.
D.C. will look to extend their conference lead when they travel to take on the Houston Dynamo a week from Sunday, while Sporting will once again try and right the ship next Friday evening when they welcome the Chicago Fire to Sporting Park.
MLSsoccer.com Men of the Match
|Rank||Player||What We Saw|
|1||Bill Hamid||Not the busiest 'keeper, but had to make some key stops, including one of C.J. Sapong’s hard header in the second half, to earn his league-leading 10th shutout.|
|2||Andy Gruenebaum||Did well on a busy night in goal to possibly become the new No. 1 down the stretch.|
|3||Davy Arnaud||Another fine showing in a United uniform from the veteran box-to-box mid. Gave no quarter on defense and a reliable conduit going forward.|