[MLS PLAYOFF RACE] Had MLS not expanded its playoff field from eight teams to 10, the Wednesday night encounter at RFK Stadium between D.C. United and Portland would have no bearing on the postseason. Instead, following 90 minutes of incredible drama, one team is still in the hunt, the other has moved on.
A frantic and sloppy game laced with incident and intensity left United, needing a win, eliminated despite rallying to tie Portland, 1-1, after D.C. lost an apparent winning goal to a proper offside call and squandered several excellent chances. While not a lot of soccer thought emanated from the action, the players drove themselves to exhaustion on a field sodden and slickened by steady rain.
Dwayne De Rosario’s amazing strike from a sharp angle in the 73rd minute matched a first-half goal by Kenny Cooper to set up a nearly constant bombardment of both goalkeepers that somehow failed to put a ball past United’s Bill Hamid or one of his predecessors in the D.C. net, Timber Troy Perkins.
A header by Blake Brettschneider from a De Rosario chip triggered a thunderous response in the final minutes from most of the 14,317 fans on hand – a few traveling members of the Timbers Army were also on hand – but was correctly ruled offside. Perkins also saved from substitute Joseph Ngwenya, and Timbers’ defender Eric Brunner rescued his team with a sliding block on De Rosario after De Ro had skipped past the keeper.
At the other end, another sub, Timber Brian Umony, smashed a shot off the underside of the crossbar that came down a foot in front of the goal line, and within a couple of minutes Hamid saved from him and fellow sub Bright Dike.
Late in stoppage time De Rosario went down in the box and waved for a penalty kick after battling for a ball he eventually stepped on. His desperate zeal, and ultimate misstep, encapsulated United’s evening.
Portland needs a favor from Philly if its finale at Real Salt Lake Saturday is to affect the playoff picture. The Union must beat New York Thursday at Red Bull Arena for the Timbers to retain a chance. A Red Bull win or tie knocks out Portland as well as Chicago, which also plays on Saturday. If the Red Bulls lose, Portland qualifies if it beats RSL.
If the Red Bulls tie and Portland wins, the teams will finish even with 44 points and the 10th and final playoff spot would go via the head-to-head tiebreaker to New York, which beat and tied Portland during the regular season.
United, which held games in hand for much of the season and didn’t exploit them, faltered badly down the stretch. After beating Chivas USA, 3-0, in early September, it conceded 16 goals in eight games while winning one, tying two, and losing five. A 2-1 collapse against Chicago – two goals conceded in stoppage time – on Saturday backed D.C. into a corner from which it could only escape by winning both of its last two games while getting some help.
“That basically was my pre-game speech – let’s go down swinging,” United coach Ben Olsen said to mlssoccer.com. “Let’s show people that we are completely committed out there and ready to push it to the limits to get this result.”