There was plenty at stake for D.C. United on Saturday afternoon, as they hosted FC Dallas at Audi Field. A two-game winning streak, and a six-game unbeaten streak were on the line, as United had the opportunity to jump the Montreal Impact for the sixth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Dallas, currently top of the table in the West, were no pushover, but a late goal from Russell Canouse — his first for the club — gave United all three points in a 1-0 victory.
Now, instead of looking up at Montreal, the Canadians are in United’s rearview mirror. And a game on Wednesday against Toronto FC gives United a chance to put distance between the two clubs.
Canouse was denied by the bar on a volley in the 86th minute, but when the rebound popped up to him, the midfielder made no mistake with a header, sending it past the onrushing keeper Jesse Gonzalez to give United their 12th victory of the season.
“Gutsy stuff from a good old Central Pennsylvania kid,” Head Coach Ben Olsen said of Canouse in his post-game press conference. “[He] made a heck of a play on the goal.”
United were once again shorthanded, naming only 17 players to the squad for the game. With internationals, injuries, and Paul Arriola’s absence due to the recent passing of his father, United didn’t have any true attacking options on the bench to call upon late on.
And against Dallas, a team with aspirations of locking up the first place spot in the West, United had to dig deep. Wayne Rooney missed a glorious chance in the 3rd minute, and from there, United struggled to create many decent looks at goal.
Then stepped up Canouse, who had yet to score in his first 26 games with the club. After crashing a shot off of the woodwork, Canouse’s scrappy follow-up finish was typical of the type of performance United put in against Dallas.
“Tonight...we said before the game, win at any cost,” Rooney told reporters in the locker room after the game. “Find a way to win. And we’ve done that tonight. It’s a sign of a good team.”
It’s been a long climb up the table for the Black-and-Red, who as recently as Week 24 were in last place in the Eastern Conference. Now, after picking up wins in 8 of the past 12 games, United occupies a playoff spot for the first time since an opening weekend draw against Orlando City.
“We knew coming into this game that we would jump Montreal with a game in hand,” Steven Birnbaum told reporters after the game. “Right now, luck is going our way, but we are creating our own luck.”
With three games left in the season, United, one point ahead of the Impact, are two results away from clinching a playoff spot after missing out last year. A win midweek against Toronto, plus a Montreal loss or United win next Sunday, would wrap up the spot before the final game of the season.
“We just have to focus on the next game,” added Olsen. “It’s cliche, but that’s what we’ve been doing.”
The only bittersweet aspect of Canouse’s late winner was that he was unable to share the moment with Arriola. Arriola went back home to California after his father’s death this week, and might not be available for Wednesday’s game either.
The two teammates go back, having spent time together with the US youth national teams, before going different ways in their careers. They met back up again last August, when both signed for the Black-and-Red. And they have been the best of friends since then, with Canouse offering support to Arriola after the game.
“That goal was for him,” Canouse told reporters. “He has every single player in the locker room, staff, members, all here for him. He’ll come back and he’ll be strong.”
“We’re thinking about Paul and his family,” added Olsen. “Guys wore armbands for him tonight. This one is for Paul.”