D.C. United finished their improbable run to second place in the Eastern Conference, extending their unbeaten streak to seven games after surviving a few desperate moments in a 1-1 tie with the Chicago Fire.
With the draw, United finishes the regular season as the 2nd place team in the East and will now face their most hated rivals the New York Red Bulls in a two-game total goals aggregate series starting next weekend at Red Bull Arena. Thanks to Red Bull’s comprehensive 3-0 road win over Philadelphia earlier in the day, United knew exactly what they needed to wrap up the 2nd seed. A loss to Chicago would have sent United tumbling to 4th place in the East and would have hosted the Houston Dynamo on Wednesday night at RFK Stadium. With Hurricane Sandy expected to make landfall just north of Washington D.C. late Monday evening, it could have been a logistical nightmare with the expected massive power outages.
As it happens, Lionard Pajoy made that a moot point with his 51st minute equalizer after Patrick Nyarko had give the home side a 1-0 lead in the 16th minute. Pajoy, a much-maligned player outside of United’s locker room, connected on a diving header after a gorgeous whipped in cross from Branko Boskovic to level the match. United continued to apply pressure and should have taken the lead late on only to see Pajoy’s weak chip attempt on a breakaway float harmlessly wide of an open net after Chicago goalkeeper Sean Johnson came out to narrow down the angle.
United came out in their now customary defensive posture but quickly grabbed hold of the match. Against the run of play in the 16th minute, the Fire worked the ball down United’s left wing and found Nyarko 25 yards out in front of goal. Marcelo Saragosa seemed to have a bead on Nyarko but a crafty cut-back move opened up space and the former Virginia Tech Hokie smoked his shot past a helpless Bill Hamid and the early lead. Chicago, had they held on to the lead would have jumped ahead of both United and Red Bull and into the second spot. It was not to be.
United continued to rule the match and got the deserved equalizer just after the halftime break. Branko Boskovic made his way down the left flank and whipped in a low cross that got around the defense and right onto the head of Pajoy who was diving away from goal. His redirect surprised Johnson as it settled into the far side netting. United continued to boss the match and the home side, desperately needing a win to avoid the knockout match, continued their out of sorts play.
The final ten minutes of the match finally saw Chicago pressing forward and they nearly equalized on numerous occasions but were stoned by Hamid on every turn. Hamid saved the best for last when he tipped Alex’ 30-yard bid over the crossbar in the dying seconds of the match to preserve United’s seven-game unbeaten streak and improbable climb up the Eastern Conference standings. Just seven weeks ago, United lost their captain Dwayne De Rosario to a knee injury and everyone except the men of D.C. United thought their season was done.
The second season is just now beginning…