D.C. United will cap a forgettable season with one final objective in mind, to say goodbye to RFK Stadium with a win.
The team, which has already been eliminated from the playoffs with 19 losses this season, will be home Sunday for the season finale against the New York Red Bulls.
It will be the United’s final game at the historic stadium, their home for the past 22 seasons, before next season’s opening of Audi Field. The new soccer-specific venue at Buzzard Point is currently under construction.
The stadium will be a fresh start for a storied team that has had a down season. United currently sits at the bottom of the Eastern Conference and were eliminated from playoff contention a while ago. They’ve been shut out 17 times this season.
Coach Ben Olsen said the team’s finale is a big deal, and not just for historical reasons. The team brought in six new players this summer, with an eye on 2018.
“The game at RFK means a lot to all our fans. So we’re looking to end the right way on Sunday against New York,” he said.
The Red Bulls have already secured a spot in the playoffs, so there’s no chance to play spoiler. But United could clinch the Atlantic Cup with a multi-goal victory.
United Midfielder Ian Harkes said the team will play for pride and for momentum going into next season.
“We want to just end the season on a high note because it’s been a tough one, for sure,” he said “We want to give the fans something to look forward to next year and finish out strong at RFK, which has been our home for years and years.”
Midfielder Russell Canouse was one of the players who joined United this summer. From Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Canouse saw games at RFK growing up.
“I see guys that want to fight here,” he said. “I think we can build something special, moving into the new stadium next season.”
RFK, which opened in 1961, has been the team’s home since it became one of the founding MLS clubs in 1996. It’s well-known in the soccer world as the site of men’s and women’s World Cup matches and was one of the venues used for soccer in the 1996 Olympics. It has also hosted three MLS Cup finals and a league All-Star game.
DECISION DAY: On the final day of the season all MLS teams play at the same time, setting up the chaos dubbed “Decision Day.”
While the Eastern Conference field is already set, the teams are still jockeying for position. The match between expansion Atlanta and Supporters’ Shield winner Toronto stands out, with the Reds seeking a win or a draw to set the record for most points earned in a season. Atlanta, meanwhile, could set an MLS record for attendance while playing for at least one home playoff match.
In the Western Conference, five spots have been secured with three teams — San Jose, Dallas and Salt Lake — vying for the final playoff berth. The Earthquakes have the clearest path to the postseason, needing a win over Minnesota United. The other two teams need help.
The match to watch is Portland’s Cascadia battle with the Vancouver Whitecaps. Whichever team wins will secure the top seed in the West. The winner will also claim the Cascadia Cup, the trophy for the annual three-way competition that includes the Seattle Sounders.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Chicago’s Nemanja Nikolic got Player of the Week honors and all but sewed up the Golden Boot award with all three goals in Chicago’s 3-2 victory at home Sunday over the Philadelphia Union.
It was Nikolic’s first hat trick with the Fire. He now leads the league with 24 goals, three up on Portland’s Diego Valeri.
He’s scored eight goals in the previous six games for the Fire. If he manages three more goals when the Fire visit Houston on Sunday, he’ll match the MLS single-season record held by three players.
He talked about the likelihood of winning the Golden Boot following the victory over Philadelphia.
“I think it’s important for every striker to win this. This is our job, we need to do this every week. The season is really long so up and down situations, you’re going to have always,” he said. “The important thing is how you will believe in these kind of things and how you will come out from the bad momentum and also how you will train when you have good momentum, it’s also important.