This is how the MLS season goes: It’s freezing when it starts, and if you last long enough, it gets freezing again. So even though many layers of clothing are required to be appropriately clad for a playoff game at RFK Stadium, the weather is a brisk reminder that D.C. United has postseason relevance again for the first time in a long time.
Despite the short notice after the switch on Wednesday, Lot 8 is brimming with folks and there’s a lot of attention on tonight’s match, with District Mayor Vincent Gray and MLS commissioner Don Garber among those expected to attend.
There have also been developments for the second leg of the Eastern Conference semifinals, too. MLS, working with D.C. United and the Red Bulls, is providing buses and tickets (first-come, first-serve) for United supporters who want to travel to New Jersey on Wednesday.
As for on the field, given that he’d returned to training, it comes as no surprise that Dwayne De Rosario was upgraded to questionable on the MLS injury report released late Friday. Just as interesting for D.C. is Daniel Woolard and Lewis Neal are both probable, further adding to the players available for United coach Ben Olsen. Neal is the most likely of that group to make the 18-man roster for tonight’s match.
Keep in mind, if United advances, it will have to play three matches in eight days, as the conference finals begin next weekend. Depth may yet prove to be crucial to how the playoffs unfold.
As for the New York side of the report, Tim Cahill (left calf) is questionable and Brandon Barklage (left foot plantar fasciitis), who scored twice against his former team back in June, is out.
You may have read my preview from Friday’s print edition, but here are a few other great quotes from this week:
*Dejan Jakovic on preparing for the New York attack: “The biggest concern is that they do a lot of interchanging with their players, as in [Thierry] Henry comes back into the midfield, and then Dax [McCarty] and Cahill go up top and make runs in behind. So we’ve got to be careful with that. Communication is going to have to be really important, communicating with the midfielders, whether there’s a switch. They’ve got some good players, but we’ve faced them already. We know what we’re going to have to do. Obviously, we have to keep a close eye on Henry at all times. He can change the game in a second. It’s a good test for us.”
*Perry Kitchen on his former teammate, McCarty: “He’s a guy that’s definitely great in possession. He works in their system very well, and they’re a team that has a lot of numbers in the midfield, especially the center of the park. It’s going to be crowded in there. We’re going to have to do well dealing with it, whether we’re having our wide guys come in, our backs stepping up. We’ve discussed it a lot this week so I think we’re ready for it.”
*Brandon McDonald on the feel of the playoffs, especially for United’s inexperienced group: “When it comes playoff time, it’s animals on the field. I’m trying to instill that in the guys here. Look man, playoffs is pretty soccer. It’s who is going to bite their teeth the hardest and have the most grit on the pitch. For us, we’ve got a fairly young team, but they’ve got to grow up quick.”
*Olsen on Bill Hamid’s form: “He’s been coming up with big saves, but he’s also been steady. That’s what you want from your goalkeeper. Yeah, of course you want the big save and the spectacular save, but you really just want him to be steady and make the saves he can and do his job back there. He’s been good on both fronts.”
*Olsen on the comparison of sides: “They’ve got more World Cup games than I think we have playoff games. It’s a great group. They put together a star studded lineup, and they’re playing very well right now. Guys like Henry are playing at their tops. He’s playing better than I’ve ever seen him play in America. We got a big job ahead of us, no question. But I like our team. We’ve got a good group., and sometimes that gets you through and gets you past teams that have great individuals. That’s what this is about right now…We have a huge challenge, but we’ve had a huge challenge for a while. I think people will continue to doubt us, and we’ll continue to try to do what we can to spoil teams’ nights.”