The Black-and-Red had already locked up a playoff berth nearly three weeks ago, last week they won their last regular season home game over the Chicago Fire 4-0. United is in a good place heading to the postseason, they can add to the good news if they can remain in their current form and take down the Columbus Crew Sunday on the road. Should they lose to Columbus, the Black-and-Red will be hosting a knockout round game at home next week.
It’s been a long season for D.C. They’ve had several peaks and valleys, some of which were just health wise and another couple that were performance based. Either way, it’s all about peaking at the right time of the year and that translates across all sports.
One noticeable difference in Sunday’s game will be the absence of Kei Kamara and Federico Higuain due to cards they’ve drawn. That essentially gives United no reason to drop that game Kamara and Higuain cause a ton of the trouble that team creates offensively. That doesn’t mean the Crew are going to just show up and give the game away, it should be a fiercely fought game.
In their last two victories, D.C. has done something rather unusual, at least in their case. They’ve used the same lineups in back-to-back contests and it looks like players are gelling. One of the biggest changes has been Alvaro Saborio coming off of the bench in the second half, in both of those games he’s come in and put the ball in the back of the net. That puts the dangerous pairing of Chris Rolfe and Fabian Espindola up top, those two have been in sync seemingly all season when combining with each other.
The other partnership that has paid off is the wing pairing of Nick DeLeon and Chris Pontius, their ability to handle the ball and make runs has put added pressure on opposing defenses. Pontius seems to have gotten his burst of speed back, his pace was impressive last week on his lone goal. As his pace has returned, so has his confidence. Truly makes the attack different with him out there, while DeLeon isn’t scoring he’s playing a big role in sustaining possession. They both combine well with the backs behind them and the forwards up top.
The center of that midfield has been impressive as well, Markus Halsti and Perry Kitchen are really starting to mesh. At first they kind of chased the ball around, now they’re playing off eachother and it’s benefitted the team on both sides of the ball. They’re a strong defensive duo and they’re able to use their talents albeit a little different on the attack. Kitchen has been much more involved in the attack and sustaining possession since pairing with Halsti, and the veteran’s vision and touch have definitely sparked the attack.
As much as Columbus is weakened by the loss of two very key players, United still will face some resistance. Specifically in Waylon Francis who has shown a penchant to come up and get involved in the attack from his wide back position. Ethan Finlay and Justin Meram have the talent to make trouble for D.C. as well.
It’s all about whether the Black-and-Red can continue their recent from of play. If they can, they’ll be headed back to D.C. with a first round bye. If not, they’ll have to be ready to play next week. They control their postseason destiny, especially when their postseason begins.