Here we are, folks: Decision Day. After clinching their playoff spot, D.C. United head down to Orlando to try to secure a home game in the playoffs. They'll need a win, though, and away wins haven't always been in DCU's wheelhouse.
But this team is hot right now, and we're feeling confident.
Not only did the win against NYCFC Sunday clinch a spot in the playoffs for the Black-and-Red, they control their own destiny to hosting a playoff match at home. Win against Orlando and RFK will rock midweek. Lose, and we could be traveling to Montreal. I think with that in mind, Ben Olsen sets out a lineup that pushes for that home playoff game. Orlando has nothing to play for, but they will still play tough. In the end, it takes an Acosta golazo and a Neagle putback to offset a Larin goal and United wins 2-1.
The circle is now completed, and D.C. United are back in front of the team against whom they began this wonderful winning streak. While Orlando has nothing for which to play, United does: A win would guarantee them fourth place and a home game against either Montreal or Philadelphia. It would also mean that, if they were to win that first round playoff game, they would immediately have another home game in the Eastern Conference semi-finals, which often seems to be the better setup rather than going on the road first. To do all of that, they first have to win on the road, something at which they have not been good this year. But this late season run is different, this team is different, so why not predict a 2-0 victory for the good guys?
The irony isn't lost on me that United are gunning for a road win to ensure a home playoff game so they can avoid facing a win-or-die situation on the road. That said, even with their slightly improved form since losing 4-1 at RFK Stadium, Orlando City still isn't a playoff-caliber team, and this version of D.C. United should dispatch them. I think they'll do it, though it'll be less comfortable than any of us would like: an early goal from Kaka puts the hosts ahead before Patrick Nyarko draws it level just before halftime. A quick brace for Lloyd Sam puts United up, but they give one back under late pressure. 3-2 to the good guys, and we'll see you on East Capitol Street midweek.
Despite United coming in on a hot streak while Orlando has one win in six games (and nothing to play for), I don't think this game starts off all that well for the Black-and-Red. A spell of pressure from Orlando ends with a Cyle Larin goal. However, that serves as a wake-up call, and United ends the first half pushing hard for a goal. It doesn't come until early in the second half, where Taylor Kemp picks out Patrick Mullins for a header to level the scores. From there, the Lions lose their edge and United finishes the job with a goal from supersub Lamar Neagle. The visitors even get chances for a third, but they end up settling for a 2-1 road win and the home playoff game that comes with it.
Although all signs point to DCU being much more likely to pull off a road win at this point in the season, especially against an Orlando team with nothing to play for, there's still a part of me that has trouble predicting it. It's too easy, and I'm not used to easy for the Black-and-Red. That said, I do think DCU get the result they need in Orlando—they want that home playoff game. But I don't think it'll be simple. 2-1 for the visitors, but it's hairy and United only grab the win late. Goals from Acosta and Neagle.
Let us know what you're predicting in the comments, but first, your silly poll of the week: