D.C. United is so close. For the first time in almost three years United has chance to slip into first place with a win Saturday at home against New England. The top spot in the Eastern Conference would be a welcome reward for United ahead of a 21-day break from league play.
A victory over the Revolution would also extend Uniteds unbeaten streak at R.F.K. Stadium to eight games. United has not lost at home since the 1-0 season-opening defeat to Sporting Kansas City. Since then United has survived injuries to multiple players and thrived with its depth from goalkeeper to forward.
I hate to say it, but it has been a blessing in a lot of ways that we have had some minor injuries throughout this stretch, said United head coach Ben Olsen. Guys have had to come in and do their part. Now going through this middle part of the season hopefully we will continue to find a rhythm and trust our depth and continue with wins.
It was June of 2009 when United used goals from Jamie Moreno and Christian Gomez to capture a 2-1 win over the Chicago Fire and a first place standing. It has been an interesting ride since, but this is now a club that appears to being moving from strength to strength. Adversity has been turned into opportunity and United is after its first three-game winning streak since 2008.
We are in no position to be complacent, Olsen added. We havent made the playoffs in a few years. We are doing in my mind what D.C. United should do and those are win games, put teams on their heels, and entertain the fans.
Through 14 games this year United is 7-4-3 with 24 points. Only in four other years did United rack up points at a better pace. Three of those seasons, 1997, 1998, 1999, United made it all the way to MLS Cup and in 2006 captured the Supporters Shield. United is trending positive and after not recording back-to-back victories in 89 games has done it twice in less than a month.
Wins over Colorado and Toronto FC highlighted Uniteds versatility and resourcefulness. Dwayne De Rosario earned MLS Player-of-the-Week with three goals at both striker and attacking midfielder. Branko Boskovic started both games and was an attacking midfielder, left-sided midfielder, and alongside Perry Kitchen in the middle.
Hes a rhythm player, and he needs these games, said Olsen of Boskovic. He needs more games, and hes only going to improve. Weve done him a little bit of an injustice in that he hasnt played a lot of minutes. Hes been 20 minutes here, 30 minutes there, filling rolls for us, and thats no way to get a rhythm. Its not an easy way to play.
When Danny Cruz suffered a hamstring injury in the 3-1 over Toronto FC, Andy Najar shifted from right back to right midfield and then assisted on Hamdi Salihis goal. For most of his pro career Najar has been known as a midfielder, but now has started twice and appeared in two other games at right back.
Hes (Najar) playing hungry, like hes got something to prove, Olsen said Were, just in fact, really seeing Andy consistently playing with the hunger, I see that in him. Competition will do that sometimes. He played right back, Im asking him to do that, and the plays he was making on their defenders was pretty fun to watch.
Despite Cruz injury that could coast him four weeks, there is encouraging news out of Uniteds training room. Defender Emiliano Dudar and midfielder Nick De Leon were back in the mix at practice after battling hamstring injuries in recent weeks. Leading scorers Chris Pontius and Maicon Santos are eager to get back in the side.
Santos and Pontius have both missed the last two games with injuries and are listed as probable for Saturday. The emergence Salihi with four goals in the last five games has helped United navigate through the absence of Santos and Pontius. United now has 16 players who have either scored or have an assist, or both.
Saturday United will face a Revolution side that is playing with more confidence and is averaging 2.25 goals per game in May after being shutout in four of their first seven games. The Revs have conceded five goals on set-piece situations to tie Toronto for most in MLS.
Regardless of the opponent United has been playing with a swagger not seen in years. A win on Saturday will give United a first place position to match that swagger.