In dismissing the Montreal Impact by a 3-0 score Saturday at RFK Stadium, D.C. United improved to 7-1-2 at home this season, equaling the number of matches they won in the nation’s capital during the past two seasons combined.
As I mentioned in my match report, United’s fine form at home has helped them jump to a two-point lead atop the Eastern Conference over the New York Red Bulls, who settled for a 1-1 draw with Toronto FC on Saturday.
“It’s five in a row now?” goal-scorer Chris Pontius asked postgame of his team’s winning streak at home.
“Six,” corrected the chorus of reporters.
“Six in a row?” Pontius responded. “Jesus. It’s great. It’s the one thing for our fans and for this organization — one of our goals this year was to take back RFK and make it a fortress to play against us here.”
PONTIUS SHOWCASES VERSATILITY
After midfielder Branko Boskovic played his way back into the starting lineup with a fine performance last weekend in a 3-2 loss at New York, coach Ben Olsen seemed to know he was shifting Dwayne De Rosario up top against the Impact. He was then left with a dilemma: Should he bench true strikers Maicon Santos and Hamdi Salihi or make room for one of them by dropping Pontius back to an outside midfield position?
Although Pontius has found great success of late playing forward, Olsen decided to move him to the left flank and start Santos alongside De Rosario. And the decision paid dividends when Pontius scored his team-leading ninth goal of the season in first-half stoppage time.
“I worried a little bit about putting him back on the flank,” Olsen said. “I was just taking him out of a place he was successful in. But I thought he did a good job. I thought Maicon held the ball up and did his work too.”
UTILITY MAN NEAL
When Boskovic departed in the 60th minute, a development Olsen was prepared for considering the evening heat, Englishman Lewis Neal — used as a left-sided midfielder and a left back thus far this season — stepped right into the Montenegrin’s central midfield spot, playing the position for the first time in a United uniform.
“We’ve been waiting to put him there,” Olsen said. “We know he can play there, we know he understands that position. It’s just that we’ve had more of a need for him at the left mid and, at times, left back as well. It’s just another position we know he can play now. He’s a versatile, smart kid. He’s been through a lot. Not many of you know Lewis Neal — he’s been around a long time. He’s been in some real games over in England. He’s a really nice addition to the group.”
BOSKOVIC ON A ROLL
A day after the club announced he signed a new contract that will keep him with the team through 2013, Boskovic returned to the starting 11 after consecutive appearances off the bench, turning in a productive 60-minute shift highlighted by his fourth assist off a set piece in five games when he found Robbie Russell shortly after halftime.
After the match, Boskovic had difficulty speaking, his voice raspy because he took a blow to the throat. But Russell had no problem singing his praises.
“When you have a guy like Branko serving balls for you,” Russell said, “you’ve got to get on the end of one.”