After a 3-1 win over New York City FC over the weekend, D.C. United clinched a spot in the MLS playoffs for the first time since 2015. On Sunday evening, Wayne Rooney and company accomplished a feat that many may have deemed impossible halfway through the season. With Rooney tallying two goals and Luciano Acosta adding on another, the Black and Red climbed to fifth place in the Eastern Conference standings, thus clinching a playoff berth with one game left in the season.
In front of a near sold-out crowd at the brand new Audi Field in the heart of the nation’s capital, coach Ben Olsen’s squad put on a magisterial performance for their loyal supporters. During the Montreal Impact’s cold streak in recent weeks, D.C. United’s four-game win streak landed the Black and Red only two points back from clinching a playoff berth with only two games remaining. On Sunday afternoon though, D.C. United were able to earn three points with a convincing home win, capping off a spectacular midseason turnaround that saw them climb from the bottom of the Eastern Conference table to playoff qualification.
From the opening whistle, D.C. United came out firing on all cylinders, and in this must-win game, Rooney found the back of the net just eight minutes into the match. The opening goal was set up by the brilliant Luciano Acosta, who effortlessly slalomed through several NYCFC defenders and finished his evasive run by laying the ball off to Rooney, practically gifting the Englishman a goal. It was Acosta’s 17th assist of the season, a stat that proves how crucial the Argentine has been for D.C. United’s offense this campaign. Not even fifteen minutes later, Acosta would find the back of the net himself with a curled effort from 22 yards out that perfectly nestled into the top corner. In the second half, D.C. United earned its third goal as Rooney converted a penalty to practically seal the victory for D.C. United and take his personal goal tally to 12 — despite making his MLS debut only three months ago. When the referee blew the final whistle, the now raucous home crowd could not help but chant proud D.C. United fight songs for their heroes who have returned the club to its stature as MLS giants.
With only one matchday remaining in the regular season fixture, the Eastern Conference playoff path for DC United is finally taking shape. As of today, D.C. United sits in fifth place with their ticket punched to the playoffs, and if the season ended today, they would face the fourth-seed Philadelphia Union in a one-game playoff series away from home. However, if D.C. United wins in Chicago this weekend, they would climb to third place and face the lower seeded Columbus Crew or Montreal Impact at home.
Coach Ben Olsen must then decide whether to rest his usual starters this weekend, or play his usual lineup and try to secure home field for the knockout round. On one hand, fielding his usual lineup could be detrimental considering the quick turnaround between games, which could lead to injuries and fatigue; however, securing home field would be a monumental advantage given that all but one of D.C. United’s 14 wins this season have come at home.
For now though, soccer fans in the DMV can celebrate that playoff soccer will be back in town after three years of absence. On top of it all, it seems as if D.C. United might have finally returned to the juggernaut it used to be when it won three titles in the late ‘90s. Only time will tell if this current squad can reach the heights that those teams did, but their incredible form as of late is very encouraging. After a rollercoaster of a regular season, D.C. United fans can finally take a deep breath and look ahead to the playoffs with confidence and outright optimism.