On October 24, 2009, Julius James came seconds away from becoming a D.C. United legend. The Trinidadian center back, who today is playing for the San Antonio Scorpions in the NASL, had suffered a hamstring injury during the second half, but United head coach Tommy Soehn had already used up his allotment of 3 substitutions. Which meant that James had to tough it out on the field or else let his team go down to 10 men. But let's zoom out a bit for some context.
This was the final match of the 2009 regular season, and D.C. United needed to take all three points out of Community America Ballpark to leapfrog Real Salt Lake for the final Wild Card spot in the playoffs. (Aside: remember wild cards? RSL of course would go on to win MLS Cup while technically representing the Eastern Conference, because reasons.) The game was tied at one goal, and United couldn't afford to lose a man. So with James willing to hobble around to the best of his ability, Soehn promoted the defender up to forward with the hopes that James' elite jumping ability would still be formidable with only one working leg.
Those hopes paid off when James out-leaped a defender to turn in a corner kick and put United up 2-1 in the final ten minutes. An injured center back playing forward and scoring the goal that puts his team into the playoffs - that's some Seabuiscit level theatrics. Alas, it wasn't to be.
The Wizards, already eliminated from playoff contention, turned up the pressure on Steve Cronin's goal and eventually found a chance. With Cronin pulled off his line, Fred retreated to cover and made a goalline clearance. The problem is that he used his right arm, extended ever so slightly from his body, to do it. That's DOGSO, that's a red card, and that's a penalty. Kansas City converted the penalty and, with the help of the goalpost, survived United's all-out assault in the dying seconds. United were out of the playoffs.
The next season, United opened in the same venue where the dream of 2009 had died, in Kansas City. Of course, that's also where the dream of 2010 was summarily executed in a season-opening 4-0 drubbing in Andy Najar's Black-and-Red debut.
Thankfully, even with the still vivid memories of 2013, the 2009 and 2010 versions of D.C. United are well in the past. The Wizards are no more, and Sporting Park has replaced the minor league baseball stadium they had called home. Until this year, United's luck against the Sporks hasn't been much better than those dead-and-buried teams from 2009 and 2010. But in May of this year, Fabian Espindola's cross-cum-shot finally gave los Capitalinos a win over Sporting Kansas City. United will try to turn that win turns into a winning streak come Saturday. More importantly, they have the chance to pass KC for the top spot in the Eastern Conference and Supporters' Shield races as both teams find themselves significantly better off than they were back in 2009.