United relishing chance to play spoiler

United relishing chance to play spoiler
October 11, 2013, 9:45 am
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DC United midfielder Chris Pontius (13) beats San Jose Earthquakes defender Justin Morrow (15) to the ball during the second half at RFK Stadium.

(Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports)

The week was not as busy for D.C. United. There was no U.S. Cup Final in the middle of the week and cross country travel to deal with. It was back to the routine of training in hopes of breaking a routine and getting a result in league play Saturday at home against Philadelphia.

It is hard to believe that with the MLS season almost over, United is still stuck on three wins. The equation doesn’t seem to make sense. United’s season did careen out of control with injuries early, but since late July the play has been better. The results have been elusive and even the confidence of winning the U.S. Open could not change that.

To be sure United’s 3-0 loss to Chicago at home was deflating in a season where disappointment has become a part of life for United supporters. A win at home with the club’s 13th trophy in attendance would have capped an amazing week. Instead the Fire’s sense of urgency in its playoff push prevailed.

“The scoreline is a big disappointment and I think that’s going to hurt our pride, but overall if we can take a look at the film of this game, I think there will be a lot of good stuff,” said United head coach Ben Olsen. “You still have to make the plays that matter on the defensive end. We gave the ball away pretty cheaply for 15-20 minutes but overall I was pleasantly surprised with our attack except for the ones that matter, which is to score.”

Maddening defensive lapses have certainly been a part of United tale of woe for 2013.  It feels like United has had to play from behind, since the opening kickoff of the season in Houston. Still the offense is brighter and United is getting quality chances. Early in the season United struggled to even threaten on goal.

United’s improved play is in part due to timing. Injured attackers like Dwayne De Rosario, Chris Pontius and Nick De Leon returned to health at the same time Luis Silva and Conor Doyle arrived at the club. Last week Olsen used Doyle as his starting striker with Silva operating just below him and they showed promise.

“We just didn’t get the goals. I think we were all kind of motivated to get out there and play again after seeing Tuesday’s result, I thought we played pretty well and we just didn’t score. And obviously, me being a forward, that’s really frustrating on my part, so I feel pretty bad about it.”

United will not have De Rosario Saturday because of international duty with Canada. Fellow Canadian international defender  Dejan Jakovic is done for the season because of a strained adductor muscle. Jakovic’s injury coupled with Ethan White’s knee ailment forced Perry Kitchen back from defensive midfield to center back.

John Thorington is also shut down for the rest of the season because of a calf injury. The injury suffered against Chicago was a cruel end to a week when he provided the assist on Lewis Neal’s game-winner against Real Salt Lake in the Cup final. With Thorington out, Neal might partner with Jared Jeffery deep in the midfield.

Like Chicago, United is facing another desperate team with the Union on Saturday. The Union holds the fifth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference on 45 points from 31 games, but is only two points ahead of the Fire and three points in front of New England. In short to be called a serious playoff team, the Union needs the result against D.C.

The Union looks like it wants to be in the post season again. There was a stretch of five games from the end of August through mid-September when the Union managed only two points from five games and appeared ready to fade. A 1-0 road result against Sporting Kansas City followed by a 1-0 win over Toronto has the Union back in the playoff conversation.

That is not to say the Union has reason for confidence. The Union’s offense has gone missing. As noted the Union’s last two wins were 1-0 and incredibly for a playoff contending team has only scored three goals over its last seven games. The Union’s last multi-goal game was a 2-0 win over United in August.

On the encouraging side for the Union Jack McInerney is back from an ankle injury to partner up top with Conor Casey. The rest of the front six for the Union includes Kleberson just below McInerney and Casey with Sebastian LeToux and Michael Farfan out wide. On paper the Union has the offensive potential to complete its playoff push.

“Our priority isn’t to knock someone off.,” emphasized Olsen. “It’s to win some games and put points on the board We’re going to tinker and show different formations and look at things for next year. Unfortunately, we have that luxury.”