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The last word on D.C. United vs Montreal Impact: Ready for the playoffs

The regular season is over, and the playoffs loom for D.C. United. They didn't win in Montreal, but Fabi's late-game equalizer is a good development. More of that when needed, please.

Addio, Marco!
Addio, Marco!
Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

In a game in which their opponent's were saying farewell to the most significant player in their short three-year MLS history, D.C. United managed a 1-1 draw with the Montreal Impact in rainy Quebec on Saturday.  As the rain fell, the Impact and its fans lifted their praise to Marco Di Vaio, a consummate professional who was what teams hope for (but often fail to obtain) when they sign an older European Designated Player, while D.C. United clawed back from a first-half deficit with some late-game tenacity which will serve them well as the MLS playoffs begin this week.

Their Words:

ChestRockwell: "Playing your best soccer in a game with few short-term consequences is always a bit tricky, and so it proved for D.C. United. Despite owning a sizable possession advantage and producing more shots, crosses, and just about every other attacking stat than the Montreal Impact, the Black-and-Red were held to a 1-1 draw at Stade Saputo. Marco Di Vaio's 27th minute strike gave the Impact a lead they nearly made stand up, only for Fabian Espindola to deliver yet another moment of class to pull United level late on. United came out as the aggressor despite fielding a lineup short three starters. Davy Arnaud, Taylor Kemp, and both potential starting left midfielders (Chris Pontius and Chris Rolfe) were left home for the trip. Jared Jeffrey replaced Arnaud in central midfield, Chris Korb took over at left back, and Academy product Collin Martin played at left midfield for the visitors, while Montreal boss Frank Klopas opted for a young back four due to a trio of starters being suspended."

- Steven Goffvia  "A year after winning just three of 34 matches, United (17-9-8, 59 points) will head into the MLS playoffs as the top seed in the Eastern Conference and holder of the greatest one-year turnaround in league history, with a 43-point improvement. Only Seattle (64) and Los Angeles (61) earned more points this season. United, 3-0-3 since a last-minute loss at New York on Sept. 10, is tentatively slated to open the postseason next Sunday afternoon with the first leg of the conference semifinals at Columbus, Kansas City or New York. The return match will be Nov. 8 at RFK Stadium."

Olivier Tremblayvia  "Fabian Espindola didn't get the memo. Stade Saputo was honoring Marco Di Vaio on the last day of his soccer career this Saturday afternoon, but Espindola spoiled the party somewhat, scoring a late equalizer as Montreal and DC United settled for a 1-1 tie. Di Vaio - who else? - scored the opener for Montreal. Espindola's goal came in the 86th minute. After United's fourth corner kick of the game, Espindola dribbled on the edge of the Montreal area before unleashing a low drive at the near post that diving Montreal goalkeeper Evan Bush couldn't quite reach. United had been pushing hard for the equalizer for most of the second half." Men of the Match:

Rank Player What We Saw
1 Marco Di Vaio Retiring striker put the bow on his long, wonderful career with one final goal.
2 Fabian Espindola The Argentine was at the center of DC's attacking efforts, scoring United's late equalizer and nearly setting up a few other goals.
3 Eddie Johnson A strong presence up top for United, even if he was a bit starved of service. Did well to hold the game up and get the rest of his D.C. teammates involved late.

- Ben Olsenvia  On not getting that second goal in tonight. "Overall it wasn't the sharpest night for us but I'm happy we battled back to get a draw on the road. I think you set yourself up to succeed in the playoffs and that goal woke us up a little bit. Once the goal hit, we started to bring the full hunger that`s necessary to win games in this league. In the second half we played some good stuff and were a little bit unlucky not to get that win. It gave us the right momentum to start the playoffs and we're looking forward to next weekend."

- Montreal Impact coach Frank Klopasvia  On Marco Di Vaio's final game. "It was an emotional game, but we wanted to come out and end the season in a positive way and finish off with a win. The guys gave everything out on the field and Marco scored a great goal, so in the end it's a special night and a sad night because the season is coming to an end and it's been a difficult one for us but we are finishing off on a positive note. We acquired some new players that made the team a lot better, but also it ends on a sad note because we are going to miss a great human being that had a tremendous career. Everyone here, not only the player`s but the staff also, learnt about a man that competes every day and loves doing what he does and that`s a good lesson for all the younger guys to see. We are going to miss him not only the staff but everyone in the city."

- Steve Birnbaumvia  On his team's play in the attacking third. "I think we might have been off a little on the final pass and the final product. As a team, we have to be better all around."

- Montreal Impact forward Marco Di Vaiovia  Does this feel like your last career game? "No, everything is still the same, before the game, after and during but with more emotions. I will miss soccer because I love playing, training and giving it my all. It was a very good part in my life and I am very proud to say that I did a good job during my career. It was a wonderful day today and I am very touched by the gifts I received from my team and the fans here today."

- Ben Olsen, via What are you guys looking to do while you wait for the playoff`s to start. "We're going to exhale for a second and take a day off tomorrow. We'll show up Tuesday with a playoff mentality, have a good week of training and prepare for whoever is next."

My Words:

The good news for D.C. United coming out of the mostly-meaningless-but-not-completely-meaningless match at Montreal, it is that they scored a late-game goal to obtain a draw in difficult weather conditions without their full Starting XI facing an emotional opponent saying farewell to their marquee player.  While the full three points could have been won at Stade Sapoto for D.C. United, it must also be acknowledged they could have lost outright.  Instead, however, United did to the Impact what has been done to the Black-and-Red so many times this season--they changed a match result with a late-game goal.

As we've documented this year, conceding late-game goals has been one of the few perplexing narratives in an otherwise fairy-tale season.  Fabian Espindola's goal in the 86', however, showed that the Black-and-Red can inflict their own late-game damage to secure a result when needed.  And while the team ends the regular season on a high note in this regard, for the campaign they lost a net of 10 points on late game goals.

Date Home Team Visiting Team Goal Scorer Minute Final Result DCU Points Dropped/Gained
8-Mar-14 D.C. United Columbus Crew Federico Higuain (CLB) 90' 0-3 0
29-Mar-14 D.C. United Chicago Fire Quincy Amarikwa (Chi) 82' 2-2 -2
5-Apr-14 D.C. United New England Revolution Chris Rolfe (DCU) 90'+3' 2-0 0
19-Apr-14 Columbus Crew D.C. United Hector Jimenez (CLB) 90' 1-1 -2
3-May-14 Portland Timbers D.C. United Own Goal against POR (Mamadou Danso) 78' 2-3 0
3-May-14 Portland Timbers D.C. United Maximiliano Urruti (POR) 90'+4' 2-3 -1
17-May-14 D.C. United Montreal Impact Eddie Johnson (DCU) 84' 1-1 1
24-May-14 New England Revolution D.C. United Diego Fagundez (NER) 77' 1-2 -1
7-Jun-14 D.C. United Columbus Crew Fabian Espindola (DCU, missed PK) 90'+5' 0-0 -2
3-Aug-14 Houston Dynamo D.C. United Will Bruin 90'+1' 0-1 -1
17-Aug-14 D.C. United Colorado Rapids Chris Rolfe (DCU) 81' 4-2 0
17-Aug-14 D.C. United Colorado Rapids Fabian Espindola (DCU) 86' 4-2 0
17-Aug-14 D.C. United Colorado Rapids Deshorn Brown (COL) 90'+1' 4-2 0
31-Aug-14 D.C. United New York Red Bulls Eddie Johnson (DCU) 90'+1' 2-0 0
10-Sep-14 New York Red Bulls D.C. United Lloyd Sam (NYRB) 90' 0-1 -1
20-Sep-14 Chicago Fire D.C. United Matt Watson (Chi) 78' 3-3 -2
12-Oct-14 Houston Dynamo D.C. United Giles Barnes (HOU) 83' 1-3 0
12-Oct-14 Houston Dynamo D.C. United Eddie Johnson (DCU) 87' 1-3 0
25-Oct-14 Montreal Impact D.C. United Fabian Espindola (DCU) 86' 1-1 1
Total -10

The Last Word:

In the MLS playoffs, the higher-seeded team in the conference semifinals and finals is rewarded with hosting the second leg of the 2-game series.  The thinking is apparently that it's an advantage to host the second game since you know what your team needs to do to advance on aggregate, so the higher-seeded team can bring its home-field advantage to bear to ensure that result is achieved.  In my mind, however, having to go on the road for the first leg of a playoff series concedes the advantage to the lower-seeded team.  If the lower-seeded team can use its home-field advantage to secure a win in the first leg of a playoff series, it seizes control of the series and can change its tactics for the second leg (much like scoring the first goal in a match frequently allows a team to change its tactics to preserve the result). Since 2012, the timeframe during which MLS has had 19 teams and used today's same playoff format, eight teams which hosted the first leg of a playoff series have gone on to advance on aggregate (although not all won at home), while only four teams which hosted the second game have done so.  Needless to say, it will be crucial for D.C. United to get a result on the road in leg one (even a late-game desperation draw) so that the second leg is played on their terms at RFK.

The Black-and-Red have put together a remarkable season after last year's nightmare year.  If, however, this team wants to truly be remembered, it will have to make its mark in the playoffs.  And the first step is playing well on the road in game one of the Eastern Conference semifinals and then coming back to RFK Stadium for the return leg on Nov. 8th in control of the series.  Both their solid 6-7-4 road record this season (22 points, 1.29 pts/gm), and the late-game equalizer Espindola scored in Montreal, indicate they can do this.

Now, let's go get it done.

What's your takeaway from the Montreal game?  What are your keys for success in the playoffs?