Maybe it is not swagger, but there is a sense D.C. United has some real momentum. That momentum and United’s improved play will be on the line Saturday when the Black and Red jumps back into MLS play on the road against Philadelphia.
Even with three months left in the season United is still in last place in the Eastern Conference and is unlikely to be a part of the MLS playoff equation. It doesn’t matter. Change is in the air. United still has a trophy to play for after Wednesday’s convincing 2-0 win over the Fire in Chicago to advance to the U.S. Open Cup final.
“What I’m encouraged about is that the last two games we look like a team,” said United head coach Ben Olsen. “We have actually played some good stuff and we look like we have some rhythm and our attack is more dangerous. Part of that is we are getting guys fit and getting guys rhythm
The final is not until October 1st at Real Salt Lake. The winner will qualify for next year’s CONCACAF Champions League. Already energized by new additions Luis Silva, Conor Doyle, and Jared Jeffrey, the pursuit of a meaningful trophy should provide the proper atmospheres as United looks to carve its future in a positive direction.
“There is no question the Cup run has helped this team to stay moving in the right direction,” said head coach Ben Olsen. “It’s human nature. With something the play for, the focus should remain high. There is incentive to improve things now, while also building for the future.”
The Open Cup semifinal win over the Fire also allowed United to avenge a deflating 4-1 loss to Chicago last month in league play. It may have been the bottom for United. Since United showed improvement even in a 2-1 loss to New England. Then there was last Saturday’s complete 3-1 win over Montreal.
“I think it turned when we picked up some really crucial players, Luis Silva, Jared Jeffery, and Conor Doyle.,” said midfielder Nick De Leon.” They have impacted our team a lot and getting people to play together. We’ve had Chris Pontius injured, I’ve been injured, DeRo (Dwayne de Rosario) has been injured, so now that we are starting to get all those pieces together I think that we our starting to gel together in our attack.”
Indeed De Leon, De Rosario and Chris Pontius have only been together in the starting lineup five times this season. Pontius remains questionable for Saturday’s game against the Union with a hamstring injury. De Leon and De Rosario are looking stronger. De Rosario was active in 64 minutes against Montreal and then scored against Chicago,
“His (De Rosario) last two games he has played hungry and the guys are feeding off that,” Olsen added. “When Dwayne plays in that manner it is easy to get behind him and follow his lead.”
De Leon also scored in the Open Cup against Chicago. Last season De Leon scored six goals in his rookie campaign, but has yet to score in league play this year. De Leon’s breakthrough was anticipated. On Saturday against the Impact De Leon was dangerous with 4 shots and two shots on goal.
The inventiveness and creativity missing from United’s attack most of the season, has resurfaced. It has been through a combination of better health and the aforementioned addition of Silva and Doyle. Now United is after its first road win of the season and first two-game winning streak since last October.
United’s opponent Philadelphia should be angry and motivated. Last week the Union suffered a 2-1 loss at home to the Fire. Despite the setback the Union is a solid 4-2-4 in its last ten games and has moved into fourth place in the Eastern Conference only four points behind New York.
While some teams look to build with designated players, the Union is committed to youth development. Jack McInerney is a shining example of the Union’s approach. Drafted seventh overall by the Union in 2010, McInerney is having a breakout year with 10 goals to place fourth on the MLS scoring charts.
McInerney has gone six straight league matches without a goal. In any game McInerney last cored in a Open Cup loss to D.C. United. Beyond McInerney, United also has to be concerned with striking partner Conor Casey who provides the Union with a potentially lethal target up top.