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Eastern Conference Finals: D.C. United Late-Game Heroics Will Be Needed Once Again!

Overcoming a two-goal deficit in the second leg of the 2012 MLS Eastern Conference Finals will likely require a late-game goal by D.C. United. How has D.C. United performed in matches with late-game goals this season, and who are the players most likely to get the needed goal?

Salihi and teammates celebrate a stoppage time goal against the Impact on 30 Jun 12
Salihi and teammates celebrate a stoppage time goal against the Impact on 30 Jun 12
Ned Dishman

Setting aside the non-calls, injuries, and player suspensions that affected the outcome of the Eastern Conference Finals' first leg, it's hard to imagine that D.C. United won't need a late goal in the second leg if they hope to advance to the 2012 MLS Cup. Overcoming a two-goal deficit will be a huge challenge, as we saw in the Sporting Kansas City vs. Houston Dynamo playoff series in the Conference Semifinals. However, if D.C. United is going to get the job done, and nothing about this team says they can't do it, it will almost certainly require getting a late goal in regulation to tie or win on aggregate, or a goal in extra time to win the series outright. But, how has D.C. United performed this year in games with late goals?

1. 2012 regular season late-goal statistics. Across the entire regular season, late game goals (either for or against) were not as big a factor for D.C. United as they were for most other teams in Major League Soccer. Here is the rundown of how D.C. United compared to the rest of the league in both goals scored and goals conceded in the 76th minute or later (including stoppage time) of a match. As the table shows, D.C. United scored a below-average-number of late game goals, but they also gave up the fewest in the league (along with three other teams, including the Dynamo).

Team Goals Scored in Final 15' Team Goals Against in Final 15'
San Jose Earthquakes 22 D.C. United 6
Houston Dynamo 17 Houston Dynamo 6
LA Galaxy 14 New York Red Bulls 6
New York Red Bulls 14 Sporting Kansas City 6
Colorado Rapids 13 Chicago Fire 8
Real Salt Lake 13 Colorado Rapids 8
FC Dallas 11 San Jose Earthquakes 8
Philadelphia Union 11 LA Galaxy 9
Columbus Crew 9 New England Revolution 9
Montreal Impact 9 Real Salt Lake 9
Sporting Kansas City 9 Seattle Sounders 9
Chicago Fire 8 Philadelphia Union 12
D.C. United 8 Vancouver Whitecaps 12
Seattle Sounders 8 Columbus Crew 13
Toronto FC 8 Portland Timbers 13
Vancouver Whitecaps 7 FC Dallas 14
New England Revolution 6 Chivas USA 16
Chivas USA 5 Toronto FC 16
Portland Timbers 5 Montreal Impact 17
Average 10.4 Average 10.4

2. 2012 playoff late-goal statistics (to date). During the 2012 MLS playoffs to date, six late-game goals have been scored (and conceded). D.C. United won their series against New York with some late-game magic from Nick DeLeon, while United gave up a late-game goal to Houston to go down 3-1 in the first leg of the Conference Final.

Team Goals Scored in Final 15' Team Goals Against in Final 15'
San Jose Earthquakes 2 Chicago Fire 0
Chicago Fire 1 San Jose Earthquakes 0
D.C. United 1 Seattle Sounders 0
Houston Dynamo 1 Sporting Kansas City 0
Seattle Sounders 1 Vancouver Whitecaps 0
LA Galaxy 0 D.C. United 1
New York Red Bulls 0 Houston Dynamo 1
Real Salt Lake 0 New York Red Bulls 1
Sporting Kansas City 0 Real Salt Lake 1
Vancouver Whitecaps 0 LA Galaxy 2
Average 0.6 Average 0.6

3. Decisive late-game goals. In D.C. United's 37 regular season and playoff games so far this year, 15 have involved late-game goals. In the table below, these games are listed, and if the late-game goal was scored by the opposing team, the scorer's name (along with the player who assisted) is shown in parentheses. Perhaps most interestingly, of the 15 matches involving late-game goals, eight of the matches had the final result determined by a decisive late-game goal. For example, the first match of the season had a decisive late-game goal when CJ Sapong scored in the 93rd minuted to win the game for Sporting. Without that goal, the game would have ended in a draw, so the goal is labeled as being decisive. The second game of the season at the LA Galaxy had two late-game goals, one by the Galaxy and one by United, but neither of these goals were decisive to the final result since LA would have won despite them. In games with a decisive late-game goal, D.C. United won five, lost one, and twice gave up the lead and were tied, for an overall 5-1-2 record.

Date Opponent Goal (Minute) Goal Scorer Assist(s) Match Result Goal was Decisive?
10-Mar home Sporting Kansas City 93' (Sapong) (Zusi) 0-1 loss Yes
18-Mar at LA Galaxy 86' (Sarvas) (Beckham) 1-3 loss
87' DeLeon Saragosa
14-Apr at New England Revolution 82' Pontius DeLeon 2-1 win Yes
2-May at San Jose Earthquakes 88' Salihi De Rosario 3-5 loss
16-Jun at Philadelphia Union 78' Pontius Boskovic 1-0 win Yes
30-Jun home Montreal Impact 91' Salihi 3-0 win
15-Jul at Houston Dynamo 89' (Ching) 4-0 loss
22-Aug home Chicago Fire 89' Tan De Rosario 4-2 win
25-Aug at Montreal Impact 92' (Bernier) 3-0 loss
29-Aug home New York Red Bulls 88' (Conde) 2-2 draw Yes
29-Sep at Portland Timbers 79' (Dike) 1-1 draw Yes
6-Oct at Toronto FC 88' Salihi 1-0 win Yes
20-Oct home Columbus Crew 91' Neal Boskovic/Korb 3-2 win Yes
8-Nov at New York Red Bulls 88' DeLeon Russell/Pajoy 1-0 win Yes
11-Nov at Houston Dynamo 81' (Sarkodie) (Camargo) 1-3 loss

4. Which D.C. United players have contributed to late-game goals? In a statistic that is sure to add fuel to the discussion of who Ben Olsen should play in the second leg of the Eastern Conference Finals, no player has scored more late-game goals for United than Hamdi Salihi. Additionally, Nick DeLeon, Chris Pontius, Branko Boskovic, and Dwayne De Rosario have also contributed to multiple late-game goals.

Player Goals Scored in Final 15' Assists in Final 15'
Salihi 3
DeLeon 2 1
Pontius 2
Neal 1
Tan 1
Boskovic 2
De Rosario 2
Korb 1
Pajoy 1
Russell 1
Saragosa 1

5. So, who plays on Sunday? In the last three games, Ben Olsen has been unable to fully use his substitutes as he would like due to red cards and injuries. In the next match against Houston, will Ben Olsen keep players on the bench who have proven themselves productive in the late stages of a match having to dig out of a two-goal aggregate deficit? Or, will he play them early to ensure they are on the field for the late minutes of the game?

What's your opinion? How will Sunday's second leg unfold, and who should be on the field in the closing minutes?