D.C. United locked up the second playoff seed in MLS's Eastern Conference on Saturday with an away draw to the Chicago Fire. Thanks in no small part to goalkeeper Bill Hamid, D.C. have a better chance to host the MLS Cup Final than anybody had hoped.
It's Monday morning, and everything from the Outer Banks to New England is closed and hunkered down for the oncoming storm. But that doesn't mean we can't look at what the media types are saying about D.C. United's 1-1 draw in the Windy City and add our own two cents to the mix. So read on, in between closing all the blinds in your residence and running out into the rain so the dog can go one last time before Sandy swamps us all.
What They're Saying About It
Webb: With Hurricane Sandy expected to make landfall just north of Washington D.C. late Monday evening, it could have been a logistical nightmare with the expected massive power outages. As it happens, Lionard Pajoy made that a moot point with his 51st minute equalizer after Patrick Nyarko had give the home side a 1-0 lead in the 16th minute. Pajoy, a much-maligned player outside of United's locker room, connected on a diving header after a gorgeous whipped in cross from Branko Boskovic to level the match. United continued to apply pressure and should have taken the lead late on only to see Pajoy's weak chip attempt on a breakaway float harmlessly wide of an open net after Chicago goalkeeper Sean Johnson came out to narrow down the angle.
Shatzer: For the first time in seemingly years, United was in complete control of possession for long stretches of the match. And they did it against a central midfield pairing of Logan Pause and Pavel Pardo that is one of the best in the league. I'm not going to tell you that the possession play reminded me of United's domination in the early years of MLS, but I'm not going to shy away from comparing it to the way that we played in 2006-07. Those teams were great at cycling the ball around the central third of the field, passing back when pressured, moving forward only when an opening was available. I saw a little bit of that last night.
Cammarota: United's 21-year-old 'keeper [Bill Hamid] was otherworldly in Saturday's 1-1 draw at Toyota Park, making a career-high eight saves - including another against MacDonald in the 63rd minute - and weathering a frantic late push by the Fire to help extend D.C's unbeaten streak to seven matches (5-0-2) and lock up the second spot. United will begin a two-leg series in New York on Nov. 3 or 4 before finishing up the series on Nov. 7 at RFK Stadium.
Goff: [The win] capped a remarkable two-year turnaround under Coach Ben Olsen, who took over on an interim basis in late 2010 when United won just six matches and set a league record for scoring futility. "When you are in the heat of this stuff, it is tough to look back at what you have gone through," said Olsen, whose squad secured its first postseason berth in five years last week. "It's more looking forward to the next task."
Davis: It's not second place, per se. There's no cash prize involved for finishing second best to Sporting Kansas City in the Eastern Conference. It's what Saturday's result in Chicago does for D.C. United's playoff route. Rather than face a mid-week match, D.C. United will get a few more days to rest and prep for a weekend playoff opener against New York. Further, Ben Olsen's club gets to avoid Sporting Kansas City to open its first playoff account since 2007. Put those two elements together, here's what you get. They could have faced a mid-week elimination contest, followed by a quick turnaround and very difficult contest against a far-better rested Eastern Conference champion, Sporting KC.
What I'm Saying About It
You always need to be a little wary looking back on a game where your goalkeeper was the clear Man of the Match. Despite bossing the game with nearly 60% of possession, United failed to outshoot Chicago and weren't particularly good at finding the frame when we did shoot - only 5 of D.C.'s 16 attempts were on target. More to the point, though, United were vulnerable to the Fire's speedy counter attack, leaning heavily on No. 28 to hold the Fire to a single goal.
Nobody is ever going to accuse Lionard Pajoy of being great finisher. But thank Etcheverry we don't have an entire team of guys who couldn't hit the net if they were standing inside the goal. Sherjill McDonald and Alvaro Fernandez - two of the Fire's most highly-paid players - as well as Gonzalo Segares left golden chances inside the six-yard box on the table. Ironically, habitual poor finisher Patrick Nyarko scored a golazo to put the Fire ahead, but must have cashed in Chicago's finishing karma for the day in doing so. Bill Hamid had a lot to do with Chicago's poor finishing - as I said he was the clear Man of the Match on the day - but the Fire had some open-net chances that they failed to put on goal.
But the mantra is "Survive and Advance," and that's exactly what United did at Toyota Park. We survived. And we moved up to third in the combined MLS table, which will probably be enough to buy us a berth into the CONCACAF Champions League starting next fall.
Next up: a
post-apocalypse swim Saturday road trip up I-95 to Our House (in the middle of Jersey) for the first game of a two-leg tie against the Metroscum New York Red Bulls with a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals on the line. I can't wait.