D.C. United has reached the point where winning is just not good enough. The Black and Red head into Thursdays match at Philadelphia with head coach Ben Olsen asking for more from his team in the wake of a 2-1 win over New England.
The goals were top notch for United. Just a day after inking a new contract Chris Pontius rewarded Uniteds faith in him with an equalizing goal on a strike from the top of the defensive arc. Substitute Lewis Neal came on as a substitute for Branko Boskovic in the second half and was the unlikely hero with the game-winner for his first career MLS goal.
Three points were gained in the standings to put United back in the top five of the Eastern Conference and a playoff position, but the result did little to relieve Olsens anxiety as the team moves forward with Dwayne De Rosario because of a season-ending knee injury. In short little impressed Olsen with the exception of goalkeeper Bill Hamid who made two incredible saves in the games final minutes.
We were rusty. It was not a great game and we were probably a little lucky. It could have gone either way, Olsen said. We are going to have to do much better than that going forward if were going to reach our goal. After they scored, we snapped out of it a little bit and our urgency was better, but overall nobody on our team today really played great, except Bill Hamid.
For the first time in four games United departed from a central midfield partnership of Perry Kitchen and Marcelo Saragosa and instead Boskovic started in place of Saragosa and played in front of Kitchen in an attacking midfield role. It was Boskovics first start since August 11th and he was frustrated with being replaced by Neal.
The season is almost over and they say I am still not fit, Boskovic said. What can I say? I feel good. Maybe I look like I am not ready, but thats how I look, thats how I play, that is my style that is how I run. I cant change how I am. Its a little bit stupid to say I am not fit but the season is over. When am I going to be ready if I am not now ready?"
I dont feel like having a debate on whether he is fit or not, responded Olsen. He is unhappy with the sub, fine. Thats normal, I like that, and I was the same way. This is not personal this is all about making decisions that will help this team win games. Branko has been a great soldier. I am surprised it has taken him this long to say something.
Boskovic, who assisted on Pontius goal and is second on the team to De Rosario in assists with five, made it clear he was happy with Uniteds victory. To be sure it is the final push for the playoffs and emotions are running high, and United is trying to end a five year playoff drought.
Aside from the emotions, clear decisions have to be made about the way forward. Is Boskovic the answer in midfield? Is Maicon Santos, who started his first game since July 15th, the answer up top with forward Lionard Pajoy? Is the SantosPajoy combination the way forward, or does Pontius, who leads the team with 11 goals, belong back at forward where he has played ten times this season.
While Uniteds sorts out its attack, it is encouraging that Robbie Russell has returned to the field Russell played the final seven minutes against the Revolution in his first game action since July 15th. Russell had been out since July 15th with plantar fasciitis and in his absence there have been several replacements at right back including Andy Najar.
Against Philadelphia United will continue to have to go without Daniel Woolard at left back. Woolard is still recovering from a concussion and has not played since August 4rth. The impact of Woolards absence of the last seven games, only two United wins in that span, has probably not been emphasized enough.
In Philadelphia, United is dealing with a dangerous team. Since John Hackworth replaced Peter Nowak as head coach, the Union has worked harder and been better. In Hackworths first game, United just barely escaped with a 1-0 win in Philadelphia. Since that game in mid-June, the Union has been a respectable 5-5-4.