Saturday night’s game against the Montreal Impact was of the utmost importance for D.C. United in their race for the playoffs. A win would have put them in prime position to grab the sixth and final playoff spot in MLS’ Eastern Conference, while a loss or draw would have given Montreal the upper hand.
A laugher of a result, a 5-0 win for the Black-and-Red, now the club within two points of the Impact, with two games in hand. With just five games left this season, D.C. are as close as they have been all year to grabbing a playoff spot. And according to their club captain, United should be considered favorites for grabbing the sixth playoff spot from the Canadians.
“I think deep down we felt that anyway,” Wayne Rooney said in response to a question from B&RU after the Montreal win on whether he considered United to be favorites for the last playoff spot. “The last few weeks.... we’ve been building momentum.”
United were a bit lucky to go into halftime up a goal against the Impact, after Luciano Acosta handed the hosts a lead after 17 minutes. Bill Hamid made a big save on Bacary Sagna, and Micheal Azira was put off just enough by Joseph Mora late in the half.
In the second half though, United took advantage of just about every opening they created, with Rooney and Paul Arriola both scoring twice, as United moved closer to the Impact in the playoff race with the resounding result.
While the victory didn’t quite put United into a playoff position, they control their own destiny as to whether or not they’ll be back in the playoffs after missing out in 2017. Montreal, with three games left, can max out at 49 points. On the other hand, United, with five games on the docket, four of them at home, can end the season with 53 points.
Should Montreal stumble in any way next Saturday against the Columbus Crew at home, United could at a minimum pull level on points with a win against the Chicago Fire on Sunday.
“We’ve put ourselves in a great position,” added Rooney in the locker room. “We didn’t want all our hard work to slip tonight. We’re delighted.”
United’s awkward first half schedule, while waiting for the completion of Audi Field, put them in this position in which they were going to have to be chasing a playoff spot. With 12 of the first 14 games this season on the road, United had just two wins to their name by the July 14th debut of the stadium at Buzzard Point.
Since then, United, elevated by the signing of Rooney and the emergence of Acosta, who now leads the league in assists with 16 to go along with 9 goals, have won 8 of 15 games. Putting the club oh so close to achieving their preseason goal of making the playoffs.
“We started this process the day we didn’t make the playoffs last year,” Head Coach Ben Olsen said in his post game press conference. “To now see the group in the form we are in, in the conversation to get into the postseason, is what we thought it would be. It’s how we thought it would shake out.”