September 15, 2019

D.C. United Game 33 Recap: United clinches top seed in East by beating Fire

GOALS BY PONTIUS, JOHNSON CAP UNITED’S SURGE FROM WORST TO FIRST

Last season at this time, some wondered if D.C. United head coach Ben Olsen was about to be fired. This year, Olsen, his team, and 20,162 fans spent the minutes after United’s 2-1 win over the Chicago Fire Saturday night watching fireworks high above RFK Stadium. Now 17-9-7, United’s 58 points clinch the top seed in Major League Soccer’s Eastern Conference playoffs a year after United went 3-24-7 in its worst season ever.

Given the club’s roster reformation in the offseason, improvement isn’t a surprise. There was never any way United was going to be that bad again given the players who were brought in. They could win more than three games by accident. But D.C.’s success this season has been far from accidental, as fans who had to suffer a year ago watching Lionard Pajoy wander into previously unexplored frontiers of offside while Own Goal led the team in scoring, last night watched United go unbeaten in five straight games and dispatch the Fire (5-10-18, 33 points), who were playing out the string.

Chris Pontius, who has missed much of the fun this season due to injury, opened the scoring for United in the 31st minute, getting on the end of a quality Eddie Johnson cross to head home past Fire goalkeeper Kyle Reynish, who was making his first MLS start in two years. Needing only a point from its last two matches to clinch first in the East, United probably had the offense it needed right there.

But to be sure, Johnson took advantage of some charity from the Fire early in the second half. Chicago was passing around the back without much purpose. When a pass went wayward toward the Chicago goal, Johnson pounced on it, avoiding a challenge from Jeff Larentowicz and blasting a shot high and emphatically past a helpless Reynish.

Johnson, who has taken his share of criticism this season, started last night and had one of his best games, earning his seventh goal and third assist. He came off late after the Fire got within 2-1 on Harrison Shipp’s goal in the 67th minute. The Fire had chances to draw level, but United goalkeeper Bill Hamid erased those thoughts, making a key save on Larentowicz and getting help from his right post after a Shipp chance got past him but bounced right back in the 74th minute.

Afterward, players celebrated with fans and signed autographs, enjoying a season no one could have predicted. But it’s not over yet by any means. United visit Montreal next Saturday to close the regular season, then await their first-round playoff opponent, which will be the winner of the play-in game between the fourth- and fifth-place finishers in the East.

THE GOOD: Hamid once again showed why he is one of the top shot stoppers in MLS. While many players are having tremendous offensive seasons around the league and will probably take up the MVP votes, Hamid’s work this season shouldn’t be forgotten.

THE BAD: The Fire were allowed a few too many chances as the second half wore on. It’s a bit of a broken record, but United’s defensive work has to be on point for 90 minutes each night moving toward the postseason.

THE UGLY: United has 42 points more than a season ago. There’s nothing ugly to see here.

NOTES: While seeding is yet to be determined, it’s now known that United, the New England Revolution, Sporting Kansas City, the Columbus Crew, and the New York Red Bulls will be the five playoff teams in the East. … United have been eliminated from the Supporters Shield race. United sit only two points behind both Seattle and the L.A. Galaxy, but those two clubs play each other twice to end the season. Even if both games end as draws, United could only get within a point of both. … Chris Korb and David Estrada entered as substitutes last night. … No United players were cautioned. … United’s home goal differential of +16 is fourth-best in the league.

Ed Morgans is the D.C. United Page Editor for District Sports Page. For in-game analysis and story notifications, follow him on Twitter @writered21.

About Ed Morgans

Ed Morgans is DC United Page Editor for District Sports Page. Ed worked for The Journal Newspapers (now The Examiner) and covered DC United from 1997-2002. He spent the 2003 season writing for the club’s website. Ed has covered All-Star Games, MLS Cups, CONCACAF Champions Cup, World Cup qualifiers, and international friendlies. He also worked as a blogger at www.bigsoccer.com, the country’s leading soccer message board website. You can follow Ed on Twitter @writerEd21.

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