WASHINGTON, October 23, 2012 — It would seem fitting that former D.C. United defender Jeff Agoos was visiting the D.C. United press box on Saturday night when the D.C. outfit claimed a playoff spot for the first time since 2007. Agoos was part of United’s glory days when the club won titles with ease in the latter half of the 1990s.
For a long time United fans have had little to cheer about but on Saturday night at RFK Stadium, the club was in a happy mood after making the postseason following an exciting 3-2 win over a desparate Columbus Crew. United coach Ben Olsen, who won an MLS Cup playing alongside Agoos in 1999, said the atmosphere at the final whistle at RFK seemed like old times.
“I don’t like to bring up the old days very often, but the feeling in that building felt like the good old days here,” Olsen said. I’d like to keep that around.”
And his boss was in agreement.
“It was a wonderful night,” said United president Kevin Payne on ExtraTime Radio. “Our fans were phenomenal. We set the standard in the early years….Ben’s done a phenomenal job to handle the team chemistry, and in the locker room, and with players not getting a lot of playing time.”
In 2007 United won the Eastern Conference with 55 points. With one game left on the calendar, United has already accumulated 57 points, the most since 1999, when the club won the Eastern Conference with the same amount. After results go its way, United could win the conference title again.
The most points the club ever earned was in 1998 with 58 points. A win at Chicago Fire on Saturday and United will set a points record.
United has done most of its work at RFK this season. Since losing its opening game to Kansas City, United has not lost at home all year. Other factors that have contributed to United’s success: the team depth and the form of Chris Pontius. United has been able to record a six-game unbeaten streak (5-0-1) without its injured captain Dwayne De Rosario (7 goals, 12 assists), while Pontius, with 12 goals, is having his best year ever with the club.
“You never want to lose a player like Dwayne,” Payne said, “but we also believed it was an opportunity for some young players to step up….In tough games, players were waiting for Dwayne to make a play and save them. Without Dwayne, players looked to themselves and said, “I have to make the play and make sure I don’t make a mistake and stay focused for 90 minutes.”
Payne also took a swipe at former New York and Los Angles Galaxy general manager Alexi Lalas, now a TV commentator, who called United a mediocre team. “I’ll let my record at putting teams together stand up to Alexi [Lalas] record at putting teams together.”
As for the Columbus Crew game before a sellout crowd of 19,647:
Eddie Gaven put the Crew in the lead in the 7th minute at RFK. United defender Dejan Jakovic blocked Jairo Arrieta’s header, but Gaven volleyed home the rebound for his ninth and team-leading goal, of the season. The Crew were fighting for their playoff lives.
United tied the game in the 39th minute. The Crew’s back line was in disarray and Nick DeLeon tapped in the rebound after Crew goalie Andy Gruenebaum could not hold Lionard Pajoy’s shot.
With his sixth goal of the season, DeLeon sealed a club record for most goals scored by a rookie. “It’s a side award, yeah, it’s good for me, but a run in the playoffs is all that matters to me,” said DeLeon about the record.
But the Crew were back in the lead two minutes later when Arrieta’s stunning long-range effort hit the far post and went in off United goalie’s Bill Hamid’s back. United midfielder Marcelo Saragosa tied the game in the 59th minute firing in a low shot. It was Saragosa’s first goal for the club. Substitute Lewis Neal got the game winner with a late counter attack in added time.
For 20 years John Haydon wrote a weekly soccer column for The Washington Times. He has covered two World Cups and written about Major League Soccer from the league’s inception in 1996.
Follow John on Twitter at @Johnahaydon
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