Written by Chris Snear on October 21, 2012 | No Comments »
Posted in Chicago Fire, Columbus Crew, DC United, General, MLS, New England Revolution, New York RB, Philadelphia Union, Sporting Kansas City, Toronto FC
DC United needed just a draw with the Columbus Crew Saturday night to earn their first post season berth since 2007. With the score 2-2 and the seconds ticking away far too slowly for the sellout crowd at RFK Stadium, that long awaited moment was still in doubt as the Crew pressed forward, desperately needing a win themselves to stay alive in the playoff race.
But barely over a minute into the extra time, United’s Lewis Neal jump started the celebration with a sensational goal to not only give United the 3-2 win, by virtue of Chicago’s 1-0 loss at New England, it pulled United into second place in the Eastern Conference.
“We’ve had some great games in this place and I’ve been lucky enough to be a part of a few of them. That was great. It was in a packed house,” said United coach Ben Olsen. “It was like the old days. I don’t like to bring up the old days very often, but the feeling in that building felt like the good old days here. I’d like to keep that around.”
Catching Columbus on a counter, Branko Boskovic played an elegant ball from the left touch line into Neal in open space, and with the same composure he normally exhibits when passing the ball, he took it on his more comfortable left foot beating Andy Gruenebaum to the far post.
“I almost got a nosebleed going that far up the field and going one-on-one with the keeper is not usually my forte,” said Neal. “The lads came and bombarded me and you realize it’s a goal and hopefully the game winning goal.”
Not one player on the current roster was on the 2007 team that won the Supporter’s Shield but fell short of reaching the MLS Cup final.
“Relief, excitement — It’s been a long time coming, especially for the guys who have been around the club for a long time,” said Chris Pontius. “Everyone is excited for the opportunity. We’re sitting in a good position. We put ourselves in a good position.”
“The longer I have spent here the more I realize how important the playoffs are whether its soccer, basketball, the NFL, or whatever so I know this is a massive achievement for this whole team and the fact we were able to do it tonight was an unbelievable feeling,” added Neal, who is from England so not familiar with the playoff system used in American sports.
United are unbeaten in their last six (5-0-1) and also extended their unbeaten streak at home to 16 games (12-1-4), with the only loss coming to Kansas City in the season opener.
With the loss and Houston’s 3-1 win over Philadelphia, Columbus was eliminated from playoff contention.
United actually fell behind twice during the entertaining match conceding a sloppy goal to Eddie Gaven in the 7th minute before Nick DeLeon got the equalizer in the 39th minute. Though the Gaven goal was perhaps the result of a bad bounce, United goalkeeper Bill Hamid’s indecision cost him an opportunity to snatch the ball away from Gaven after it had popped up into the air some 7-yards from goal.
Both teams were coming off two week layoffs and it showed, especially for United, who were not definitive at all with their passing and had very few ideas in the final third. United were certainly aided however by the absence of Chad Marshall, who was a late scratch with an ankle injury.
The game did not stay at level terms for long however, as Jairo Arrieta combined nicely with Federico Higuain two minutes later to forge the Crew back into the lead 2-1. Arrieta’s strike hit the post but the carom glanced off Hamid and into the corner of the net for his ninth of the season.
“The second goal they came back with was a blow. The stadium went silent,” said Olsen. “It was a heck of a goal. Arrietta and Higuain are real deal.”
But in the 59th minute, Marcelo Saragosa got United to level terms again with a left-footed shot from just outside the penalty that meandered through a gaggle of players and just out of the reach of the diving Gruenebaum into the lower right corner.
The play, however, was made by Brandon McDonald. The rangy center back failed to win Andy Najar’s original free kick from the right flank but stuck with it, extending his right foot out to poke the ball away from a Columbus defender toward Saragosa, who took it first time for his first goal of the season and only his third in 131 MLS regular season games.
“In the playoffs, defensively you have to be sound. We saw a good attack today and you saw we gave up two goals. We can’t consistently give up two goals in the playoffs because the defenses in the playoffs are much better, so that is not a good recipe,” said Olsen. “We are still going to be who we are. We are going to be a bit more aggressive at home and on the road we’re going to make sure we give up zero goals.”
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