Ten days ago, D.C. United’s playoff hopes seemed dim.
The club sat on the outside looking in at the postseason as news came out that the club would be without captain Dwayne De Rosario for the rest of the regular season. Forgiving schedule or no, that was a tall task for a United team that has missed the playoffs four years in a row.
Three games and nine points later, United (15-10-5) now are as close to first place in the Eastern Conference (within five points) as they are to falling out of the postseason field. The results haven’t been pretty — all one-goal wins over teams missing the playoffs — but this team’s resilience has been impressive nonetheless.
“We talked about getting nine points in three games as a goal,” coach Ben Olsen said. “And you go about working towards it and then when you get it, it feels good.”
With four games remaining — trips to struggling Portland and Toronto, a big home game against Columbus, and a challenging finale at Chicago — United should make the playoffs. And sitting in a tie with New York for third in the East, securing a bye as a top-three seed is realistic as well.
Here are some other observations from Sunday’s 1-0 win over Chivas USA (7-15-7):
BOSKOVIC STEPS UP
You just knew Branko Boskovic’s first goal in an MLS match was coming. In recent games, he’s found himself getting more and more involved with United’s attack in the absence of De Rosario. The way I saw it, that increasing confidence was a reason he sounded off Tuesday on Olsen’s penchant for pulling him early in the second half.
After being inserted in the 57th minute Sunday, he converted Lionard Pajoy’s cross with a diving header seven minutes later — the third straight game an Olsen sub has paid near-immediate dividends. Although he’s scored three U.S. Open Cup goals, it was the first league tally for Boskovic in three seasons with United (39 appearances).
“I know you guys made a meal out of his comments earlier in the week, but to me that’s just a guy that wants to be on the field and wants to win, and I thought his attitude all week has been good,” Olsen said. “Even though I’m sure he disagrees with me at times, he’s committed to the guys out there and he’s committed to this organization and he always has been, so I’m happy he was the hero today.”
Added Boskovic: “The last time I scored was like two years ago. It’s a good feeling, especially when you win 1-0. I think we deserve these three points. It’s very important for us, and this goal was because we worked hard and it was good quality by the group.”
DEFENSE IN FINE FORM
United’s back line hasn’t exactly been the team’s calling card this season, as the club finds itself 10th out of 19 MLS teams with 39 goals allowed in 30 games. But now that D.C. has recorded back-to-back shutouts for the first time this season, it looks like Olsen has found a group in the back that clicks.
Although injuries to Robbie Russell (now recovered from a foot ailment) and Daniel Woolard (still sidelined by a concussion) were unfortunate, they paved the way for Chris Korb and particularly Andy Najar to flourish. And center back Dejan Jakovic has looked sharp picking off passes, blocking shots and distributing next to Brandon McDonald after beating out Emiliano Dudar for the spot.
“It gave us a lot more confidence,” goalkeeper Bill Hamid said of the defensive effort. “It was two great games of defense, and you have to take your hat off to the teammates in the defense, blocking everything.”