It's simple: United needs a victory

By Paul Tenorio
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 24, 2009

The list of scenarios laying out D.C. United's playoff hopes is long, complicated and, as far as United's players and coaches are concerned, all but pointless entering Saturday night's regular season finale at the Kansas City Wizards.

D.C. is one of six teams fighting for two final spots in the Major League Soccer playoffs, and in addition to its own game in Kansas City, United will need to watch the results of several other teams to determine its fate.

But after seeing two key games go against their favor Thursday night, the synopsis of the players' thoughts entering the weekend was simple: There is no use worrying about things you can't control.

"We've been saying all along we have to take care of what we can control, and we have a game now to win and what happens elsewhere really doesn't concern what we're trying to do this weekend," United veteran midfielder Ben Olsen said. "If we win hopefully that stuff will play out in our favor, but the thing we can control is Kansas City."

That United (9-8-12, 39 points) is in this position is at once disappointing and, considering its trajectory just three weeks ago, somewhat fortunate.

It is, players say, a result both of the failures to secure points in critical games during the season and also a credit to a gritty performance against a quality side when D.C. was holding on desperately to its slim chances.

"No one is saying it's an ideal situation where we're at," Olsen said. "But at least there's hope. A couple weeks ago we thought in a lot of ways that hope was gone, but we got some results and we've stayed alive and our work throughout the year has got us to this point, where we have a chance."

United's current position is representative of a tumultuous season in which, at one point in late July, it had an opportunity to share the top spot in the Eastern Conference, but by last week found itself nearly out of the playoff race.

In need of a win at home against the last-place San Jose Earthquakes at the end of September, United struggled and lost, 2-1, inciting boos from the home crowd and squeezing tighter shut the window for the club's playoff aspirations.

D.C. followed that loss with another dismal league showing at RFK Stadium less than a week later against Chivas USA, falling, 2-0, in a game United Coach Tom Soehn called, "disappointing on all fronts."

With its season seemingly slipping away, however, United managed a 1-0 win in its home finale last Saturday against the league-leading Columbus Crew, providing one final opportunity at claiming a postseason spot -- albeit through a complicated path that relies as much on results around the league as its own performance on Saturday night.

According to the MLS Web site, United will qualify if it wins and Toronto FC (39 points), the New England Revolution (39) and FC Dallas (39) lose. If D.C. and the Colorado Rapids (40) win, and New England or Toronto win, United is eliminated -- unless Dallas, D.C. and Toronto win, in which case it will be decided by goal differential.

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