WASHINGTON, October 3, 2014 – What a change a year makes. D.C. United became the first team in the Eastern Conference to secure a playoff spot with a hard-fought scoreless tie against Sporting Kansas City before 19,308 at RFK Stadium in Friday’s nationally televised game. With the tie, United (15-9-7, 52 points) retains a six point lead over defending champions Sporting (13-11-7, 46 pts.) and with just three games left on the season, has likely clinched the conference title for the first time since 2007.
Making the playoffs has been a major achievement for the four-time champion after posting the worst record in the league last season with three wins and 16 points. United coach Ben Olsen must now be a favorite to win the coach of the year honors.
United entered the game without key central midfielder Perry Kitchen, who was suspended for the game due to the accumulation of yellow cards. Nick DeLeon moved into Kitchen’s position. Veteran midfielder/striker Chris Pontius made his first start of his injury-plagued season playing behind the attacking duo of Luis Silva and Fabian Espindola, who have combined for 20 goals this season.
The game started at a hectic pace with Sporting taking the game to the home side. But it was United who got in the early chances. Pontius had a shot on goal on the ten-minute mark, forcing Sporting’s second-string goalie Andy Gruenebaum to make a big save. Espindola then saw his shot go wide after being released on a breakaway from Silva’s pass. The Sporting goalie then made a huge save in the 28th minute stopping Espindola’s direct shot after the striker had again been set up with a pass again from Silva. It was then DeLeon’s turn to test the Kansas keeper.
After the break, the game opened up, with both teams searching for the opening goal. It was exciting stuff in the steady downpour of rain.
Espindola had another good attempt at goal but his shot went wide of the far post. The D.C. striker then tried from long distance on the hour-mark, but again his shot went wide. It was not Espindola’s night.
Lewis Neal replaced Pontius in the 63rd minute to bring some fresh legs into the United midfield. Silva then came close to scoring from a freekick in the 71st minute. A minute later, D.C.’s leading goalscorer was replaced by Eddie Johnson. United goalie Bill Hamid then came up with a big save to stop C.J. Sapong’s diving header. A game doesn’t pass for United without Hamid proving he is one of the best goalies in the league.
The Sporting lineup included United States World Cup stars Matt Besler and Graham Zusi who both played in all four of the U.S. team’s games in Brazil this summer. Dom Dwyer, who has 20 goals on the season for Sporting – second best in the league standings – was kept quiet by United’s defense led by Bobby Boswell, along with excellent work rate from Steve Birnbaum and Taylor Kemp.
Sporting arrived at RFK after winning just one game in its last six outings.
This was the third meeting between the clubs this season, with United winning two and earning shutouts in all three games.
United next visit the Houston Dynamo before finishing out at home to Chicago and a final road trip to Montreal.