Houston Dynamo v DC United - Eastern Conference Championship - Leg 2

D.C. United: the men of RFK Stadium are clearly on the rise

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On closer, nit-picky inspection, D.C. United’s playoff campaign was not such a highly decorated one.

Four matches brought one victory, dramatic and memorable as it was. They were outscored in the playoffs, 5-4. That’s not exactly the stuff of MLS champions.

But that’s just fine and dandy, I say.

Let’s not lose perspective here. The Black and Red just completed a wonderful post-season campaign (its first since 2007, don’t forget) that speaks quite well of the league’s youngest manager, Ben Olsen.

Keeping some of the young talent – Andy Najar in particular – will be tricky. But a nucleus of young talent (Chris Pontius, Nick DeLeon, Perry Kitchen and Bill Hamid most notably) make up terrific, economical young building blocks.

And Dwayne De Rosario still has something left. He will be 35 next year, but the veteran Canadian international takes care of his body and showed only marginal signs of decline this year. He’s a shrewd performer who can be counted on tweak his playing style, leaning a little more toward “passing” playmaker, a little less toward the slash and dash that once defined his sizzling game.

Olsen has the right blend of historic connection and passion that United’s upper management covets, married with a professional approach. He’s still learning, and Olsen would be the first to say so. So long as DCU’s second-year manager accepts the learning curve and keeps his mind open, there’s reason to believe he could successfully steer the Good Ship United for some time.

(MORE: Analysis of Sunday’s playoff contest at RFK Stadium)

There is a danger: the entitlement complex that seems to lie within the organizational DNA must be tamed. This is not the MLS of yesteryear, where 10 or 12 teams competing to see who could best exploit the pliable player acquisition mechanisms, and where one coach (Bruce Arena) was often a cut above the coaching field.

D.C. United will never dominate as it did in those initial MLS days, and the targets must reflect the day of MLS 2.0. The approach must remain measured, otherwise that sense of entitlement corrupts the decision process.

If management is smart, they’ll dump the underperforming “stars” and re-balance the salary budget with a little more attention to the back line.

(MORE: A season of improvement around RFK)

Either way, United has plenty to like about 2012 – and reason to look forward to even better days ahead.

Olsen clearly sees it the same way. What he said following Sunday’s second-leg against Houston:

We talk about laying a foundation here. Having something special for years to come. And I believe that it’s here. I really do. It’s a bunch of great young guys who are willing to fight and do what it takes. This experience was invaluable for them, being in these real games down the stretch. It’s a special group. There’s a certain character and spirit that makes me proud to be a part of them.”

MLS Snapshot: Orlando City SC 2-1 Montreal Impact

Cyle Larin, Orlando City SC

The game in 100 words (or less): For weeks, it was a widely held belief that the Montreal Impact would snatch up the sixth and final playoff place in the Eastern Conference with little or no resistance from their opposition. As they went six games unbeaten (four wins), all looked to be setting up perfect for the club that fired Frank Klopas midseason, but there was another team in the race for sixth that kept winning themselves: Orlando City SC. On Saturday night, Montreal and Orlando City faced off at the Citrus, with the expansion Lions claiming their fourth-straight victory with a 2-1 triumph. Montreal now holds a one-point lead on Orlando in the race for sixth, and have two games in hand, but it’s no longer a foregone conclusion L’Impact will qualify for the playoffs no resistance whatsoever.

[ MORE: | Week 30 TOTW | POTW ]

Three moments that mattered

33′ — Bush’s mistake gifts Larin the opening goal — Larin did what your taught to do as a striker — “put it on frame, test the goalkeeper” — but in no universe does a shot so feeble have any business finding the back of the net. Evan Bush has been great this year. Hopefully (for Montreal’s sake), this howler doesn’t turn into the yips with the playoffs looming.

43′ — Hall’s “mistake” gifts Oduro an equalizer — Dominic Oduro equalized in the 43rd minute, when he took the ball out of the hands of Tally Hall and smashed it into the back of the net, but the goal should have been disallowed due to Hall having full control of the ball.

80′ — Hines hits the winner for Orlando — Seb Hines put the ball back into the mixer and just so happened to find the back of the net in the 80th minute. Sometimes that’s all it takes.

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Man of the match: Seb Hines

Goalscorers: Larin (33′), Oduro (43′), Hines (80′)

MLS Snapshot: NY Red Bulls 2-1 Columbus Crew SC

Bradley Wright-Phillips, New York Red Bulls
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The game in 100 words (or less): Two weeks in a row Columbus Crew SC have had a chance to go top of the Eastern Conference with a victory, and two weeks in a row Crew SC have failed to take a single point from massively important fixtures. Their latest defeat, a 2-1 humbling at the hands of the East-leading New York Red Bulls, started so well for Gregg Berhalter’s side, but was undone by a pair of costly, comedic defensive errors that allowed Lloyd Sam and Bradley Wright-Phillips (15th of the season) to erase an early deficit (Justin Meram) and win all three points. The result not only keeps the Red Bulls top of the East, but gives them a three- and four-point cushion with three and two games in hand on their nearest competitors., D.C. United and New England Revoltion respectively. For Crew SC, they’re four points back of the Red Bulls in fourth place, one point ahead of fifth-place Toronto FC, who have a game in hand.

[ MORE: | Week 30 TOTW | POTW ]

Three moments that mattered

9′ — Meram pokes it past Robles for an early lead — Meram “earned” his goal all the way back in midfield, when the Iraqi international’s mazy run took a routine turnover inside Crew SC’s defensive half and turned it into a dangerous counter-attacking opportunity. Harrison Afful overlapped and provided the cross for Meram to send home.

12′ — Sam capitalizes on multiple mistakes to equalize — Crew SC pass the ball out of the back. They don’t boot it forward to clear. It’s just what they do. Sometimes, that’ll bite you. When your goalkeeper and right back both have blunders clearing the ball 10 seconds apart, you probably deserve to concede an ugly, scrappy goal.

21′ — Wright-Phillips capitalizes on more defensive gaffes — See the above description for Red Bulls goal no. 1.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Damien Perrinelle

Goalscorers: Meram (9′), Sam (12′), Wright-Phillips (21′)