WASHINGTON – D.C. United’s 2014 season could possibly be down to its final 24 hours.
Trailing 2-0 heading into Saturday’s Eastern Conference Semifinal second-leg clash with the New York Red Bulls (2:30 pm ET; NBC and UDN), D.C. will need a flurry of goals and a near-perfect defensive performance to extend their season. That’s the reality of the situation, and in turn, many pundits have given the Black-and-Red only a very slender chance of advancing.
But none of the United players who met the media after their team’s final training session at RFK Stadium on Friday afternoon seemed concerned with punditry or predictions.
And nobody seemed to think that they’d wake up Sunday facing the offseason.
“None of us think this is going to end tomorrow,” midfielder Chris Pontius said. "That isn’t even in anybody’s head. Nobody’s making any of those plans.”
D.C. United have never lost to New York in four previous postseason series, and head coach Ben Olsen indicated Friday he doesn’t expect this to the be the first.
"I do believe in this team,” he said. “It’s a group that has responded to adversity all year long - I expect them to do the same [Saturday]. There’s a lot of character in that locker room, a lot of guys that will want to keep this season alive. I believe in them and they believe in themselves. We have to show up and do the work.”
The optimism that permeated United’s locker room on Friday, however, shouldn’t be confused with naiveté or cockiness. DC enter the match fully aware of what happened on Sunday afternoon at Red Bull Arena, and the work this week has focused on how to unlock a New York side that knows it likely needs just a single away goal to put United down for the count.
“We didn’t play like you’re supposed to in a playoff game [on Sunday,] and now we’re paying for that,” said United forward Fabian Espindola. "I’m just surprised and pissed off – we didn’t manage the game the way we were supposed to, didn’t play like we were supposed to. Our midfielders didn’t even touch the ball. As a forward, I barely touched the ball. For me it was a disaster. That has to change on Saturday."
Said Olsen: “We’ve addressed that. We addressed a lot of things that weren’t up to speed. I think they’ll all be fixed and they’re easily fixed, honestly. Some of it was mentality, some of it is tactical. We’ve addressed a lot of that stuff and hopefully we’ll make this thing very interesting."
They’ll look to do so in front of a rowdy crowd - United expect RFK Stadium to be nearly sold out to its downsized capacity of just under 20,000, with some 1200 of those fans traveling in to support the Red Bulls. Asked what he thought of New York’s traveling support, Olsen chuckled before giving his response:
"I thought I told them to cap that at 1,000!” he said. "I think it’s great. You know I love this rivalry and our fans go up there and they come down here, it only creates a better atmosphere.”
Pablo Maurer covers DC United for MLSsoccer.com.