Before D.C. United moves on to a justly earned spot in this season's 2012 Major League Soccer playoffs, let's take a moment to review the top matches of the 2012 regular season. This was a season worth remembering, and these are the games that are the most memorable. The games that defined the season. The games we will be talking about in the years ahead.
But what makes a game a "top match?" Well, obviously that is in the eye of the beholder. For this ranking, I've used a combination of factors, to include big wins, pivotal wins, games with great individual plays, and matches with high entertainment value. We'd like to see your list of the Top 5 regular season matches as well, and hope you will use the comments section below to share yours with us.
In reverse order, here is my countdown of the Top 5 D.C. United matches of the 2012 regular season:
5. D.C. United vs FC Dallas, RFK Stadium, Mar. 30, 2012
Result: 4-1 win
D.C. United started the 2012 season much as it had finished the 2011 season--losing. With an opening match loss at RFK to Sporting Kansas City, then a west coast swing that included a loss at the LA Galaxy and a scoreless draw at the Vancouver Whitecaps, D.C. United found themselves 0-2-1 after three matches. When coupled with their 1-6-2 record at the end of 2011 after Chris Pontius broke his leg, D.C. United was a combined 1-8-3 in their last 12 regular season matches before facing FC Dallas, a 2011 playoff squad, at RFK on Mar. 30. In an outburst of offense from Nick DeLeon and Maicon Santos (including his goal scoring blast that was nominated for D.C. United goal of the year), D.C. United recorded their first regular season win in six months, and started a 15-game stretch that saw them score 33 goals while amassing a 10-3-2 record. This game was the moment that the potential this team possessed was realized for the first time in 2012, and the momentum of the team changed in a significant way.
Man of the Match: Nick DeLeon (dcunited.com), Maicon Santos (many fans)
HIGHLIGHTS: D.C. United vs FC Dallas, March 30, 2012 (via mls)
4. D.C. United vs San Jose Earthquakes, Buck Shaw Stadium, May 2, 2012
Result: 5-3 loss
D.C. United was riding a seven-game unbeaten streak when they traveled to the west coast to face a surprisingly strong San Jose Earthquake side that was unbeaten in six games and had earned results in all but one of their first eight matches. Unfortunately for United, starting center backs Emiliano Dudar and Dejan Jakovic were down with injury, so a patchwork defense was employed throughout the match. What unfolded wasn't a win for D.C. United, but it was an offensive explosion as Dwayne De Rosario put D.C. up early, and then he assisted on two goals as United fought to get back in the game. We also saw braces from Chris Wondolowski and Steven Lenhart in a game that featured 38 total shots on goal, 15 of which were on frame. Even with the good streaks these two teams were on entering the match, did anyone think on May 2 that we were seeing two of the three best teams in MLS this season, along with the guy who would go on to tie the record for most goals in a MLS season?
Man of the Match: Chris Wondolowski (San Jose), Dwanyne De Rosario (D.C. United)
HIGHLIGHTS: San Jose Eartquakes vs DC United, May 2, 2012 (via mls)
3. D.C. United vs New York Red Bulls, RFK Stadium, Apr. 22, 2012
Result: 4-1 win
This game makes the list for two reasons. First, looking back on the regular season now that it is complete, this was the highest quality win of the season since it was the best team (using the final league table) D.C. United beat this year. Second, you have to love not just beating your top rival, but beating them down with a hat trick from Chris Pontius. Who will forget Pontius masterfully dispossessing the ball from Thierry Henry (with trademark Henry petulance as well as he fell to the pitch) and then rocketing a shot from outside the box for the first goal after only seven minutes? A goal so good that it was just named the D.C. United goal of the year. The weather was awful and the attendance wasn't very good for this Sunday night game, but a national audience on ESPN2 saw that D.C. United had the potential to be a big time factor in MLS this season.
Man of the Match: Chris Pontius
HIGHLIGHTS: DC United vs New York Red Bulls, April 22, 2012 (via mls)
2. D.C. United vs Columbus Crew, RFK Stadium, Oct. 20, 2012
Result: 3-2 win
Hopefully you were at RFK for this match, because this was the best overall game experience of the year for D.C. United fans. First, this was a big, big game. D.C. United needed a win or a draw against the Columbus Crew to clinch their first playoff spot in five years, and this was their last home game to get the needed result. Second, it was an awesome atmosphere with D.C. United's legendary fans turning out in force for the first home sellout of the season (let's do that more next year!). Third, this ended up being the most exciting game of the year with D.C. United fighting back twice from one goal deficits to tie the match, only to win it in stoppage time when all three of Ben Olsen's second half substitutes, Hamdi Salihi, Branko Boskovic, and Lewis Neal (along with he-of-the-short-socks, Chris Korb) combined to seal the victory on a classic counterattack goal. This was the game that revived the magic at RFK that we'll hopefully see again when D.C. United faces the Red Bulls in the second leg of their playoff series on Nov. 7.
Man of the Match: Nick DeLeon (mlssoccer.com) or Lewis Neal (many fans)
HIGHLIGHTS: D.C. United vs Columbus Crew, October 20, 2012 (via mls)
1. D.C. United vs New England Revolution, RFK Stadium, Sep. 15, 2012
Result: 2-1 win
Who would have thought that the most pivotal game of the season would be a "third game" against a New England Revolution side that was second to the bottom in the Eastern Conference entering the match? This match immediately followed the worst two weeks of the season for D.C. United. At the start of that stretch, the team concluded its summer-long descent from first place to sixth in the Eastern Conference, finding themselves out of a playoff position, following a 1-0 loss at Real Salt Lake. D.C. United then had to simmer over that loss during a two-week international break, only to get the devastating news that captain and reigning league MVP Dwayne De Rosario would miss the rest of the season due to a knee injury suffered while on duty with the Canadian Men's National Team. Yet, on the heels of that bad news, the team rallied behind the superb play of Bill Hamid and the leadership of Chris Pontius to steal a victory over the Revs on a night they didn't play their best soccer. That last sentence would come to describe several of the matches that would follow for D.C. United, but it's hard to see how D.C. United would have come anywhere close to finishing the season the way they did (5-0-2 over the last seven matches, 17 of 21 points) without winning this game. This was the game they had to have, if not for points, then for their confidence and psyche to prove to themselves they could win without DeRo. And win they did.
Man of the Match: Chris Pontius
HIGHLIGHTS: D.C. United vs New England Revolution, September 15, 2012 (via mls)
What's your list of the Top 5 D.C. United matches from the 2012 regular season? Which games will you remember?