If you gotta play a knockout game in the playoffs, you want it to be at home—and happily for D.C. United, that's what they've got tomorrow night. The Black-and-Red have about as much control over their playoff destiny as a team can hope for going into this kind of game.
But do they get the job done? We're feeling confident.
While the four-game winning streak was snapped Sunday in Orlando, the Black-and-Red were able to rest almost all of their starters and will have an extra day to prepare for the Montreal attack which also limped to the finish line. Ben Olsen will have everyone at his disposal and our team is mostly healthy and ready to go. The good part is that this match is played in the friendly confines of RFK Stadium, where United had nine of their eleven wins. Both matches against Montreal this year ended in 1-1 draws, but this time I think the match is decided in 90 minutes. D.C. United wins 3-1 off goals from Mullins, Sam, and DeLeon, offsetting a Piatti penalty, and we move onto the conference semifinals.
This new-look United, dynamic through the midfield and able to stretch teams vertically and play both on the ground and through the air, match up well with Montreal. Look for Lloyd Sam to focus on his defensive responsibilities, helping whoever starts at right fullback to deal with Ignacio Piatti. With the game at RFK, I fully expect Patrick Mullins to go HAM, nabbing a brace on assists from Taylor Kemp and Luciano Acosta. 2-0 to the good guys and bring on whichever New York area team comes to town Sunday.
United is a nightmarish match-up for Montreal, who are slow in midfield and can't defend in the air. The Black-and-Red will open this game up early and often, and that should stake them to a lead. Lloyd Sam will set Patrick Mullins up to head in a cross that gives United an early lead, and Patrick Nyarko will clean up a mess late in the half to hand the home side a richly deserved 2-0 lead. Montreal will show some energy after halftime, though, and Ignacio Piatti will get the Impact back into the game with a piece of wizardry on a counter-attack. Bill Hamid will make a couple of wonder saves to keep the visitors at bay, and United will break out to grab a late third to clinch the game. Let's go with a pair of subs linking up, with Julian Buescher slotting Lamar Neagle in behind for a breakaway that is easily tucked past Evan Bush. 3-1 to the Black-and-Red.
D.C. United will be playing a likely Drogba-less Montreal Impact, at RFK Stadium, at which they have been on fire recently. Montreal haven't beaten a playoff team since August, and got roundly thumped by the New England Revolution in their last game of the season. D.C. United's rested starters should be able to pull out a victory at home, so I think a 2-0 victory is in order, with Patrick Mullins and Luciano Acosta scoring the goals.
I've never lived closer to danger, but I've never felt safer. I've never felt more confident, and people could spot it from a mile away. And as for this team? I gotta be honest—it grew on me. Once you've taken a few punches and realize you're not made of glass, you don't feel alive unless you're pushing yourself as far as you can go.
Earlier this season, I definitely didn't think we'd be making playoff predictions for DCU. But right now, I believe in this team. They can beat Montreal at home, and they can do it with a little bit of style, too. Will it be easy? Not at all. But ultimately the Black-and-Red triumph, 3-1, goals from Mullins, Neagle, and Birdbomb.
How are you feeling going into tomorrow's game? Share your predictions in the comments, and don't forget to vote in your latest silly poll (answer choices courtesy of my B&RU colleagues):