D.C. United host the New York Red Bulls on Sunday afternoon. This game will provide us with a chance to determine whether D.C. are more than just playoff hopefuls.
D.C. United are resurgent. That is for sure.
A team that was largely disregarded as a potential playoff contender earlier in the year, struggling to find any semblance of form or connection, they have blossomed under the guidance of Ben Olsen, the inspiration of Wayne Rooney and Bill Hamid, and the stirring motivation of having their own stadium.
Such were the toils of D.C. earlier in the year, even with their excellent recent form, they are still not above the playoff line — they have one more game in hand over Montreal Impact which, if they win, will be enough to overhaul the Canadians.
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But their performances and current run of results suggest that this is a team far better than what the standings purport. Since the start of August, they have lost just two games, winning six of the nine played. In that run, they have dismantled the Portland Timbers and Atlanta United, matched New York City FC, and lost to two of the Eastern Conference playoff teams.
One of those teams, the New York Red Bulls, they welcome to Audi Field at the weekend. The Red Bulls, alongside Atlanta, a team that D.C. have already knocked off, have been the best team in MLS this season. They are battling with Atlanta for Supporters’ Shield, currently sitting one point in the lead, though having played one more game more.
D.C. are largely considered as one of the lesser playoff teams, should they make it that far. They would have sneaked in the back door, rather than ploughing through the front with a brash horn announcing their arrival. They would not be expected to make a run at the MLS Cup.
But if they want to be seen as more than just playoff hopefuls, then recording a win against the Red Bulls on Sunday afternoon would go a long way to doing precisely that. The Red Bulls are threatening to sweep D.C. after two 1-0 wins, one in New York and one in Washington. It is difficult to see Olsen’s men as anything more than glorified pretenders if they cannot finally get one over their bitter rivals.
Talent-wise, this team does have a chance to make some noise in the postseason. Rooney is one of the best players in MLS, Hamid has rediscovered his pre-Europe endeavours form, while the midfield comprises a nice variety of technically gifted footballers and outstanding athletes that make excellent runs off the hold-up play of Rooney.
This is a cohesive, connected, intelligent team, with each of the components working in unison with one another. And they are in very good form, even if they looked a little lethargic in a hard-earned midweek victory over Minnesota United.
D.C. may have the talent to make a run at the MLS Cup. The jury is still out on that. But they can make a very good case with a win against the Red Bulls on Sunday. This is a truly fascinating opportunity indeed.