Red-hot United kick off postseason hosting rematch with Columbus

November 1, 2018

The last time D.C. United lost a match, the Washington Redskins hadn’t finished their preseason yet. Then-Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh’s hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee hadn’t started, and “Crazy Rich Asians” was still new in theaters.

It was Aug. 29. United have played 10 matches since then, winning seven and drawing three.

If you want to talk about the sports cliche of “getting hot at the right time,” start here. United are streaking at the perfect moment as they prepare to host Columbus Crew in the MLS Cup Playoffs Knockout Round at 8 p.m. on Thursday at Audi Field.

“We’ve shown in the last two months we can hang with the best of them,” center back Steve Birnbaum said. “And we’re winning in different ways, and that’s what you need. So we’re clicking right now, but we’ve got Columbus (Thursday) night. It’s a one-off game and anything can happen, so all of our focus is on that and then we’ll go from there.”

United earned the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference on the final day of the regular season. That came with a home match in the opening round of the playoffs, a win-or-go-home faceoff with the No. 5 Crew.

Earning that home-field advantage in the last game was critical, as United are 12-2-1 at Audi Field since it opened July 14.

“I guess we have a certain swagger to us when we play there with our fans that we don’t have on the road,” Birnbaum said. “And you need that. Maybe we haven’t had that in the past at our home games here at RFK. And I think the fans kind of feed off it, to be honest.”

If United win, they will play at home again Sunday against either No. 1 New York Red Bulls or No. 2 Atlanta United to kick off a two-leg conference semifinal round.

United and Crew have not met since April 14, which was the Black and Red’s first win and first clean sheet of the season. A lot has changed since, including United’s acquisition of Wayne Rooney. But the length of time between meetings is no big deal, Birnbaum said.

“We feel as if we play our game, we’re gonna get out there with the right result,” he said. “We know what their strengths are and we’ve been preparing.”

Those strengths include striker Gyasi Zardes, Columbus’s leading scorer. The Crew needed Zardes to record his first career hat trick to win the regular-season finale and lock up the No. 5 seed.

But United are stronger defensively than they were to start the year. D.C. has allowed just two goals in its last six contests, which included four clean sheets for goalie Bill Hamid and company.