D.C. United's chance to clinch a playoff berth Saturday is the biggest match of goalkeeper Bill Hamid's career.
Of course it is. He's merely 21 years old and in just his third season as a professional.
But United's four-year absence from the MLS postseason is a lifetime in a league that is only in its 17th year. In many ways, it's easier to connect the team to its poor luck and poor form since 2007 than to its three championships in the league's first four seasons.
|Crew at D.C. United|
|When » Saturday, 7:30 p.m.|
|Where » RFK Stadium|
|TV » CSN|
|The Crew have played with heavy hearts since 22-year-old midfielder Kirk Urso's death from a genetic heart disorder in Columbus hours after United's 1-0 win over the Crew at RFK on Aug.?4. "Making it into the playoffs would just be good for team morale," Crew defender Julius James said. "We've been through a lot. We've been seasoned, weathered, and I think we have what it takes."|
The current group has cast aside recent history. An unlikely five-game unbeaten streak without injured playmaker Dwayne De Rosario means United (16-10-6) needs only a draw against the Crew (14-11-7) to end its postseason drought. A lower bowl maximum crowd of 19,647 is expected at RFK Stadium, where United is 11-0-4 since losing its season opener in March.
"We knew from the minute we walked out of Toronto the importance of the Columbus game," Hamid said. "We're going to bring it. We know what this means to the club."
Hamid earned his third shutout of the current streak in United's 1-0 win in Ontario two weeks ago, but all three have come against teams that aren't headed to the playoffs.
"We haven't played a team with the quality that Columbus has in five games," United coach Ben Olsen said. "That's the reality. ... We're going to have to be sharper in a lot of aspects. Not only are we going to have to be better defensively, we're going to have to be better offensively as well."
The Crew, in sixth place in the Eastern Conference, have been propelled into contention by midseason acquisitions Jairo Arrieta (eight goals, four assists) and Federico Higuain (three goals, six assists).
Meanwhile, United forward Lionard Pajoy, who has started all 10 games since joining United from Philadelphia in August, has only one goal in the last eight contests. United hasn't scored more than once in its last four games.
But there's renewed belief inside the D.C. United locker room, where doubts have resided since the roster was dramatically reshuffled in 2008. Chris Pontius (team-high 12 goals), who was drafted in 2009 and is now the team's longest tenured player, played in the U.S. Open Cup final in 2009 but knows all too well the depths from which the club has resurfaced.
"You try and put those bad memories away sometimes," Pontius said. "But I think, obviously, this year we've done well at times, and we've strung some matches together and gotten points when we needed to, especially down the stretch here. I like where we are. I like where our mindset is heading into this game."