D.C. United begins playoff push vs. Union

The club has occupied a spot in the postseason window for much of the
campaign, but its usual position inside the top-three has fallen by the
wayside as Ben Olsen’s men have slipped to fifth place in the Eastern
Conference on 44 points.

United heads to PPL Park to face the Philadelphia Union on Thursday, clinging
to the final playoff berth. The club’s bid to end a four-year postseason
drought begins now.

“It’s everything,” Brandon McDonald told the club’s official website last
week. “Looking at how we finished last year, the group of guys we have are a
strong group of players, so for us not making the playoffs is unacceptable.
We’ve got to lock down right now.”

The race is likely to go down to the wire as D.C. has six games left, four of
which are on the road. The club only holds a two-point lead over the Columbus
Crew and still has to travel west to face the Portland Timbers in addition to
its match at Toyota Park against the second-place Chicago Fire, but Chris
Pontius is convinced that United is in a favorable position to get the job
done.

“Everyone knows where we stand,” said Pontius, who wore the captain’s armband
in United’s most recent outing, a 2-1 home win over the New England
Revolution. “What you ask at this time in the season is that you are in the
race and that you control your own destiny. We do. We have both of those in
our hands.”

Robbie Russell figures to be a central figure for United’s playoff push. The
defender won a title with Real Salt Lake in 2009 and has not missed the
postseason in any of his four MLS seasons.

“There’s always that period where a team realizes that – if they want to have
a taste of something they will remember the rest of their lives – it needs to
start now,” Russell said. “There are two months left in the season. That is
two months of your whole life. You can give up two months for something that
is going to stay with you forever. It’s always helped when someone has pointed
that out at some point.”

D.C. will face a Philadelphia side that has little, if anything, to play for.
The Union are coming off of a 1-1 draw with Toronto FC, a result that extended
the club’s winless streak to seven games. The club’s last victory came on July
29 in a 2-1 home defeat of the New England Revolution.

Philadelphia and D.C. have faced one another twice already this season. United
came away from PPL Park with a 1-0 win on June 16 before playing to a 1-1 draw
with the Union at RFK Stadium on August 19.