I Want To Believe...
DC United's gritty response to De Rosario's loss? Amassing points against a series of cellar dwellers with unlovely, grind-it-out performances? Those I can just about reconcile with my mortally wounded expectations round about the beginning of September.
But how to cope with coming back twice and then beating Columbus, a rival in the fight for playoff places, to guarantee a post-season appearance for the first time in years? How especially to put in perspective coming back for a critical, first-round-bye-providing draw against Chicago, a long-term bogie team for United, on the road, while playing some nice possession stuff to boot? True, there was a fair amount of luck being ridden, but...
I've admitted before to having extreme doubts about United's MLS Cup ambitions. During the run against the hapless also-rans, the little demon of doubt on my shoulder kept saying, "Yeah, but what about when we play some real teams? Ones with playoff hopes of their own? What can United do against contenders?"
Even with De Rosario, United were a long shot to challenge for the Cup. But De Rosario provides the unexpected that can so often provide the difference in knock-out scenarios. Without that option, I figured Ben's boys were just about good enough to stumble into the playoffs in unimpressive fashion, but that's where the run would end.
But what to think after back-to-back critical results against similarly hot teams pushing for the playoffs?
Part of me looks at the Metrodonkeys, considers the current form of United and the regular season meetings, and thinks we match up pretty well with them. Part of me is peeking through my fingers at the sort of imperious performances Henry has been turning in for them as they approach the post-season.
So do I honestly believe United might have a shot at another MLS Cup?
Sadly, not so much.
The second place finish in the East after a tremendous late-season surge is both stunning and pleasing, and the results in what amounted to two "playoff" matches to end the season are undoubtedly impressive. But for all the points hauled in of late, there's never really been anything particularly convincing or dominant about United's play that suggests they'll be able to get it done against the truly elite sides.
That said, it's a funny old game, and there's a nagging, "maybe, just maybe" itch that this pessimist, for one, can't shake.