Last night wasn’t quite do or die for D.C. United against Orlando City SC. A loss or a draw against their playoff rivals would not have eliminated the Black-and-Red from playoff contention, but it surely would have dented United’s hopes, and made the final four games a sweat to end the season.
So when United needed a win the most, at home, in front of the biggest crowd all season, there was no misstep for Ben Olsen’s charges. Patrick Mullins scored to give United a first half lead, and then a two minute salvo from Lloyd Sam and Mullins effectively put an end to the game. Julio Baptista’s stunning free kick for Orlando meant little when Julian Buescher popped up to score his first MLS goal in the 4-1 victory over the Lions.
There’s still plenty of work to be done for United to get into the playoffs this season, but the win put the side into the final playoff spot, even if it’s only temporary. The New England Revolution could reclaim sixth place on Sunday with a win against the Columbus Crew.
“You hope you have the type of players and staff, that when the games get more important, they rise to the occasion,” Olsen said in his post game press conference. “I think you saw a group of men out there that fought extremely hard, played well, and understood what it was going to take on both ends on the ball tonight.”
United were dealt an early blow in the game, when midfield stalwart Marcelo Sarvas was hobbled after trying to dispossess Ricardo Kaka at midfield. The Brazilian tried to play on, but moments later he had to be removed from the game, with Buescher taking his spot in the 23rd minute.
But D.C. didn’t let that derail their night. And a slick passing move, with Sam finding Patrick Nyarko in the box, Nyarko back heeling to Taylor Kemp, and Kemp firing a cross in front of goal for Mullins, who stayed just onside, gave United a first half lead that helped calm the nerves of what could have been a more tense night at RFK Stadium.
“It was stressed all week that we needed to come together and work hard. That’s exactly what we did,” Mullins said after his two goal performance. “And you see the fruits of the labor of working hard. You get chances, you score goals. Top to bottom, there were some very good performances out there.”
Where United really made it count was just after the second half restart. Too many times this season United had taken a lead only to let points slip away when they could not find the finishing touch to give themselves a two goal cushion. That was hardly the issue last night, with Sam heading home in the 51st minute, and Mullins firing in his 7th goal in 11 games since joining the Black-and-Red just two minutes later.
When it had mattered the most thus far in the season, United had showed up.
“Everybody brought their game on both sides of the ball tonight. If you do that in this league consistently with the players we have, we can have success,” said Olsen. “But if one or two or three guys choose not to be at their peak, it’s enough to lose a game.”
“We’ll look to build off of that, and make sure the urgency stays high for each and every game from here on out.”
Even though they currently occupy the 6th and final spot in the playoff spot, and trail the Montreal Impact by just a point for the 5th spot, there is still plenty of work for United to do in the final four games of the season. The Revolution trail the Black-and-Red by a single point, and Orlando is still merely three points behind, with a final day date with United looming large.
United faces a quick turnaround with a game against the Crew on Wednesday, another game at home in which anything but a win might put a major dent in their playoff aspirations. With the league table up on a white board in the locker room, United know all too well what they need to do in the final games of the season to accomplish their pre-season task of making the playoffs.
And the goal is to go into that final game against Orlando not needing a result to confirm their playoff status.
“We want to take care of business as early as we can,” captain Bobby Boswell said after the game. “We don’t want to leave that last game at Orlando, we don’t want it to mean anything,”