Ben Olsen set out one big task for D.C. United at the start of this season: qualify for the playoffs. On that front, anyway, with the scoreless draw against Sporting Kansas City on Friday night, it's job done. But don't tell that to anybody associated with the Black-and-Red, as they all seem to realize that work for the real prize has yet to start.
Steve Goff, The Washington Post - RFK Stadium rumbled like a playoff cauldron Friday night for D.C. United’s biting affair against Sporting Kansas City. Unbowed by intermittent rain, the supporters’ groups were in full throat and a crowd of 19,308 reacted to every crunching tackle, dodgy decision and missed opportunity. With a 0-0 draw, United and its backers will now get to experience the real thing.
Pablo Maurer, MLSSoccer.com - Both teams struggled to break through as the two sides played to an entertaining, scrappy 0-0 draw in front of a rain-soaked crowd. The result pushed United’s point total to 52, good enough to guarantee a playoff berth one year removed from a historically bad season in which they claimed just 16 points.
Chris Webb, UnitedMania - After the break the intensity and the tackling ramped up a few notches and United probably should have been awarded a penalty when Sporting defender Igor Juliao chopped down Chris Pontius in the 53rd minute. Pontius, making his first league start since September of 2013, had the inside edge on Juliao and was trying to bring down an Espindola cross when he caught Pontius in the thigh in midair. Referee Hilario Grajeda chose to make no call to the dismay of United’s lively crowd.
Thad Bell, The Blue Testament (SB Nation's SKC site) - Manager Peter Vermes shifted the lineup again when he rested Benny Feilhaber and started Gruenebaum over Eric Kronberg. "Right now, he's healthy and he's played quite a few games up to this point," Vermes explained when asked about the move at keeper. "I just thought it was the right decision. I thought he made a very big save in the first half on Espindola, and that's the kind of save that we need to keep us in the game."
Ben Olsen, via dcunited.com - I thought [KC's] energy was good. Their passing is always good. We held it in the first half, and the second half I thought we were good. Overall in the game we had better chances than them, but we weren’t able to finish any of them.
Ben Olsen, via dcunited.com - There was a good vibe in the city, even driving here. I took the long way through the city, and I got a little bit of the Nats vibe. The city was vibrant. Take RFK out of it - you know it’s an old, beat up building, and I’ll be happy when it blows up – but there’s not a better show in town. When our fans show up and put on a performance like that, there’s nowhere else I want to play. It’s a great atmosphere, and I’m happy to reward them with getting into the playoffs. It means a lot to these guys and for those of us who have been around a while.
KC coach Peter Vermes, via dcunited.com - Yeah, look, it comes down to this every year doesn’t it? Towards the end of the season it’s a pretty close packed in-group and, you know, I always say every game is important, but obviously there is a little more significance when everybody sees what’s left and how much points are there and all that stuff. It is what it is, it’s really about getting to the playoffs and then it all starts all over again.
Both sides were forced into changes from their first-choice starting XI, most notably in central midfield. Perry Kitchen, of course, was suspended for yellow card accumulation, and Benny Feilhaber was left out of the Sporks' side, reportedly to rest him up after their recently-ended stretch of fixture congestion. These changes in particular led to a more timid and less creative KC, while adding some technicality and forward impetus in the center of the park for United. That's a big part of how DC out-shot the visitors despite the disadvantage in possession.
Nick DeLeon's move into the middle could have gone better, but it also could have gone a lot worse. Nicky showed the aggression and assertiveness with the ball that he's shown at his best, but it was too much of a good thing at times as he forced shots when he had better options. As compared with the tentative, indecisive NDL we've seen too much of this season, I'll take it.
In the end, it's another flavor of Bennyball. It was a pragmatic move, allowing Sean Franklin to help provide defensive cover at right midfield and creating room for Chris Pontius to make his first start of 2014 and provide a more direct threat on the left side. Defensively, it worked well enough (though it may have been aided by the absence of Feilhaber until the late stages of the game), even if offensively we didn't see enough possession or chances created to comfortably say United deserved all three points.
The Last Word
I'm torn on the final takeaway from this weekend's draw. On the one hand, this result accomplished Goal #1 for the year and represents another point on the massive turnaround from the Worst Team Ever. But on the other hand, this team isn't done. There's still the top spot in the East to wrap up and MLS Cup to chase. United are through to the knockout stages of the Champions League, but there's still seeding to be determined.
And I think that's exactly how Ben Olsen and veterans like Bobby Boswell, Sean Franklin and Chris Pontius will look at things. What they've accomplished so far in 2014 has been wonderful and remarkable. But it pales in comparison to what's left. Onward and upward, starting next weekend in Houston.