United low in standings, high in confidence

United low in standings, high in confidence
September 20, 2013, 4:30 pm
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(Paul Frederiksen-USA TODAY Sports)

Through a difficult MLS campaign D.C. United has kept a healthy attitude. That attitude helped the Black and Red reach the U.S. Open Cup final. Now with players physically healthy there is a growing confidence in the United side that points in the league might punctuate the end of the season.

United impressively snared one point in a 2-2 draw last Saturday at home against the LA Galaxy and is focused on securing its first road win of the season Saturday against New England. The Revolution is only two points out of a playoff spot, but has  only one point from its last three games including two straight losses.

The match against the Revolution is the first of three straight away from home including the Open Cup final October 1 at Real Salt Lake. For United it is a dual role. The team can build for the Open Cup final, while also disrupting playoff races like last week when it denied a highly motivated Galaxy side a win.

“I said it all year – we’re in this together and no one has folded up shop: staff, the organization or the fans,” said United head coach Ben Olsen.  There are times of real spirit with this crew, and I still believe in the nucleus of this team, and tonight (Galaxy game) was a great dress rehearsal for Salt Lake because Real Salt Lake has this type of quality.

Twice United was able to rally from a one-goal deficit in the 2-2 tie with the Galaxy. Chris Pontius made his first start since July 7th and responded with his second goal of the season.  The previous week in a 1-0 loss to Chivas USA Pontius played 25 minutes off the bench after missing seven games with a hamstring injury.

“Coming back off injury, it’s easier to get into a game once you score, so I felt a bit more confident after that,” Pontius said. “Just in this game, my fitness is lacking. There were points where I got out of breath, but I would just sit in for a couple minutes and re-gain it. I’m on track. I should be ready to go by that Open Cup final.”

United’s confidence is partially linked to Pontius getting on the field with Dwayne De Rosario and Nick De Leon. They were United’s three most dangerous attacking players last year. In 2012 Pontius, De Rosario and De Leon combined for 25 goals. This year the trio has a total of 6 goals and as a team United has only scored 18 goals.

The 2-2 draw with the Galaxy also marked the first time since June 2nd that Pontius, De Rosario and De Leon were all in the first eleven.. Incredibly they have only been together in the starting lineup four times this season. Injuries have also plagued De Rosario and De Leon’s seasons and until the recent arrivals of Luis Silva and Conor Doyle, it was hard to see where United’s goals would come from.

One steady fixture all season for United has been midfielder Perry Kitchen who has played in 27 of 28 league matches. He is on pace to reach the 8,000-minute mark at New England on Saturday. If Kitchen reaches this mark, he would be just the second player in League history age 21 and under to achieve this feat, with Eddie Gaven logging 8,000 minutes by age 19.

Along with a steady presence in the lineup, Kitchen has provided a steadying influence on the team. In his role as a defensive midfielder, he will not provide overwhelming numbers, though he has contributed 1 goal and 4 assists. In a critical position on the field Kitchen seldom makes mistakes and his distribution is precise.

Kitchen’s role again will be essential against the Revolution. New England is a team that can attack quickly in numbers and Kitchen’s organizational skill and leadership will play a role in helping to slow down the Revolution’s progress.  The Revs like to play at a fast pace and have scored 12 goals in their last five games.

While firepower is not a problem for the Revolution, conceding goals is suddenly a concern. In its last two matches, both losses, the Revolution allowed seven goals. It’s the most the Revs have allowed all season in consecutive games and the team’s three game winless streak is the club’s longest since going five games without a win from the end of March to April.

The Revs recent struggle on defense is a recent development. Prior to its losses to Chicago and Montreal, the Revolution had only allowed 20 goals in its first 26 matches. At Gillette Stadium New England is particularly stingy and is fourth in goals allowed at home, conceding just 12 through 14 games this season.

Beyond the numbers, the match between United and Revolution might also come down to belief. New England believes it is a playoff contender and really needs the full three points from Saturday’s match. D.C. United  believes it is better, but would like to prove it can win away from R.F.K Stadium before its Cup final October 1st in Utah.