By Jason Murphy
With a championship trophy back in Washington D.C. thanks to the Capitals, the nation's capital is hungry for another. The next team with the chance to do so is D.C. United.
The Black-and-Red kick off their quest to hoist a league-record fifth MLS Cup with a knockout-round match against Columbus Crew SC tonight, Thursday, Nov. 1 at 8:00 p.m. ET at Audi Field on FS1.
The summer surge by Wayne Rooney and Co. earned United the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference and a home match in the knockout stage. Tonight's one-off will be the 16th home game for D.C. United since the new stadium opened July 14 and the team holds a 12-2-1 record at Audi Field in its inaugural season.
Since the start of September, D.C. United lead MLS in wins (7), goals (21) and points (24) powered by Rooney (9 goals since Sept. 2) and teammate Luciano Acosta (5 goals since Sept. 2).
Although Rooney's introduction catapulted D.C. United to new standards on the offensive side of the ball, the resurgence in defense has been overseen by the return of Bill Hamid between the woodwork. Hamid, who struggled to find playing time at FC Midtjylland after signing with the Norwegian side after the 2017 MLS season, returned on loan this summer and has backstopped 5 shutouts in his 14 matches in net this season.
Since Hamid's return, United has allowed more than a single goal just once, allowing three in a 3-3 tie to the Supporter's Shield-winning New York Red Bulls, and are allowing just 0.86 goals per game.
United have fared well in one-off playoff matches throughout the club's history, owning a 6-4 record but are 0-1 in knockout round games (suffered a 4-2 loss to Montreal in 2016) in MLS' new playoff format that began in 2015.
The two teams split the season series, with both sides holding serve at home (Columbus earning a 3-1 win on March 24 and D.C. returning the favor in a 1-0 win at Navy-Marines Corps Memorial Stadium a few weeks later).
The Black-and-Red have won all three previous playoff meetings between the two MLS original sides, including 6-of-8 total matches played between the two in the postseason. Tonight marks their first postseason meeting since the 1999 Eastern Conference Championship, which United won en route to their third of 4 MLS Cups.
The winner of Thursday night's knockout round match will advance to face No. 1 seed New York Red Bulls in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, with the legs taking place on Nov. 4 and Nov. 11. The No. 3 seed New York City FC advanced to the Eastern Conference Semifinals to take on the No. 2 seed Atlanta United following a 3-1 knockout round victory over Philadelphia Union.
HOW TO WATCH D.C. UNITED vs. COLUMBUS CREW SC
Who: No. 4 seed D.C. United vs. No. 5 seed Columbus Crew SC
What: 2018 MLS Playoffs Eastern Conference Knockout Stage
Where: Audi Field, SW Washington, D.C.
When: Thursday, Nov. 1 at 8:00 p.m. ET
TV Channel: Fox Sports 1
Live Stream: Fox Sports Go
MORE D.C. UNITED NEWS:
- Star Power: 15 most famous players in MLS history