On a night where the Washington Nationals were opening their postseason activity several miles away, D.C. United was staring at one of the more important games in recent memory at RFK Stadium (with deference to Lewis Neal). And with a Friday night crowd of 19,308 ripping the joint around them, D.C. attempted to get three points closer to their first Eastern Conference Championship in seven years, but settled for their second playoff berth in the last three years with a scoreless draw, sharing points with Sporting Kansas City.
The first half was entertaining, with some end to end action and some relatively close chances sprinkled in. Sporting KC employed their high press at times and helped them to almost 63% of possession in the first half. D.C.'s normally reliable passing attack faltered, with only 58% in the first half and 37% in the attacking half of the field, against a Sporks team missing Aurelien Collin, though Matt Besler had a solid first half. The teams traded yellow cards, with Seth Sinovic getting one from Hilario Grajeda out of frustration for an uncalled foul by Sean Franklin (Sinovic will miss SKC's game next week against the Chicago Fire) and Davy Arnaud getting a card late in the first half while holding Paulo Nagamura. Arnaud will miss next week's game against the Houston Dynamo.
The second half opened up a bit more with Fabian Espindola firing a shot just wide, minutes after Igor Juliao fouled Chris Pontius (his first start in almost a year) in the area. Replays appeared to favor a penalty kick but Grajeda disagreed. SKC had chances, notably a C.J. Sapong header in relatively close proximity which Bill Hamid saved, and Luis Silva had a free kick opportunity from 20 yards out which just missed the net where Andy Gruenebaum tended. Separate chances from Espindola and Dom Dwyer for SKC were deemed to be offside later. The scoreline held and RFK Stadium celebrated a playoff berth with fireworks, but the players and their coach were less boisterous.
"It's good to get it out of the way and enjoy that tonight and move on," Ben Olsen said. "I think the team fortunately has bigger goals now and there's a feeling in that locker room that they can do something, whether it's finish top 3, finish first and make a run at this thing."
Olsen went on to discuss the evening that the city's soccer and baseball franchises had saying, "I took the long way through the city and got a little bit of the Nats vibe and the city was vibrant. But take RFK out of it, it's an old beat up building, I'll be happy when it blows up. But there is not a better show in town when our fans show up and put on a performance like that, there's nowhere else I wanna rather play."
On the penalty kick non-call, Pontius said, "It's a PK, I'm not diving there." In asking the team veteran about the change in the locker room he said, "For me, it starts in training, there's guys that are competitors and real winners here. In 5v5 sessions, there's people that really want to win and I think that translates over into games.If you push guys and there's that much competition in training, it only translates into games, and for me that's the biggest thing we have in this locker room, we have a bunch of guys that understand what it takes to win and are willing to go out there and get that accomplished."
Boswell appreciated the celebrations though was pleased that they were generally tempered, saying, "We'll enjoy it tonight, but we gotta get back to work...We had every expectation to make the postseason, that’s why we’re not in here popping champagne and kicking doors down. We expected this to happen. We'll enjoy it, but we got guys that are mad we didn't win the game, that's how competitive we are and it's a fun group to be around."
At 15-9-7 and 52 points, D.C. becomes the first team in the Eastern Conference to clinch a postseason appearance, three points away from clinching the East. Sporting KC (13-11-7) moves a point ahead of the New England Revolution 46 points to 45, with the Revs hosting the Columbus Crew this weekend.