D.C. United may officially be out of playoff contention, but Sporting Kansas City don’t expect anything less than the Screaming Eagle’s best shot Saturday at RFK Stadium.
If anything, the match will represent a sort of reversal of fortunes just two years after Kansas City eliminated United from playoff contention on the final weekend of the regular season in a drama-filled match at CommunityAmerica Ballpark.
At that time, Sporting was the team without postseason hopes while United needed a victory to sneak their way into the playoff field. It was a victory D.C. came seconds away from earning only to see their season end prematurely through a Claudio Lopez penalty kick in extra time.
“We had found out prior to that game that we were out mathematically and couldn’t do anything,” Manager Peter Vermes said. “All we had to do was tie or win the game [to keep them out of the playoffs]. We tied. The guys fought until the bitter end. I think it’s a matter of pride.”
And even though Ben Olsen’s team won’t be able to keep Kansas City out of the playoffs on Saturday, they’ll be able to do the next best thing.
Should D.C. United draw or take all three points, Sporting’s dreams of finishing at the top of the Eastern Conference will be severely damaged, putting home field advantage during the playoffs and an impressive worst-to-first storyline in danger.
Although United may not field a completely first-choice lineup – Vermes didn’t in that crucial game two seasons ago – nobody in Kansas City expects the ultra-competitive Olsen and his charges to approach this game any differently just because the light at the end of the tunnel has been extinguished.
“We approached it to win the game, but we did play some other players in ,” Vermes said. “I have to assume they are going to do the same thing, but I don’t think it changes your mentality. You go in there, you want to win and you want to play.”
One player Vermes said he expected to play a significant role is leading MVP candidate Dwayne De Rosario, who holds a tenuous lead at the top of the league scoring chart with 16 goals through 33 games.
“I think De Rosario is probably going to play because he wants to win the Golden Boot,” Vermes said. “I think he’ll play. Other guys I’m not so sure of.”
Either way, Sporting is preparing for the game that will decide their final standing in the East in the same manner they would have had D.C. knocked off Portland and been fighting tooth and nail for their postseason lives.
After all, they know what they’ve done the past few seasons when their own playoff hopes came up short.
“We went out there and played our butts off,” Chance Myers said. “We know there are going to be some guys get a shot that haven’t gotten a shot for D.C. to save their job or do whatever they need to do to be there next year. We expect a fight.”
Peterson Joseph goes under knife
Sporting is remarkably healthy, only Daneil Cyrus, Luke Sassano and Konrad Warzycha were unavailable against New York at the weekend, but one player returned from the international break in need of surgery.
Peterson Joseph had a minor operation on his knee this week after returning from duty with Haiti to clean up slight meniscus damage. He is expected to be out around three weeks, and Vermes said he could potentially be available should Kansas City progress in the playoffs.
“Coming back from the international games, he had a little bit of a bone bruise and a very tiny little piece of meniscus,” Vermes said. “We felt if we were going to do it, we should do it right now so he could still come back for some games here at the end of the season.”