After D.C. United lost to Toronto FC in early May, the team's outlook was bleak. Coach Tom Soehn's job seemed to be in jeopardy, and fans were pleading for the team to trade striker Luciano Emilio, who managed to score only once in seven games.
But players didn't give up on Soehn, who kept his cool despite the 2-7 start, and now United finds itself in a respectable position at the midpoint of the 30-game MLS season.
United (7-7-1, 22 points), which doesn't play another MLS game until July 22, turns its focus to its U.S. Open Cup quarterfinal game against the Chicago Fire on Tuesday night and the upcoming SuperLiga tournament, which pits the best American teams against Mexico's finest.
Early on, when the club couldn't win on the road and was allowing easy goals from traditionally weaker teams, Soehn didn't flinch. He could see the finished product.
"When this team gets it together I wouldn't want to play against us," Soehn said after the loss to Toronto.
It seemed just talk at the time.
But after a six-game unbeaten streak that included an impressive 4-1 win over the Los Angeles Galaxy, United looks like one of the better teams in the league.
Instead of seeking to trade Emilio, the club raised his salary and made him a designated player. The move paid off. Emilio is on a six-game scoring streak and was named MLS player of the month for June.
"We are creating lots of opportunities, and that's important," Soehn said. "We've also made progress defensively, and we're letting in less but still haven't got that shutout, which is discouraging for me. It's important that the last stretch of the season is when you are at your sharpest, and we still have room to improve."
The chemistry that escaped the club in April and May because of roster upheaval in the offseason is finally there. Veteran striker Jaime Moreno, playmaker Marcelo Gallardo and Emilio have combined for 20 of the team's 28 goals.
"It's good that we get the positive results so that we can gain confidence and know we are able to get the wins," Gallardo said.
Moreno's six goals and six assists in 14 games is impressive, considering the 34-year-old striker had seven goals and six assists in 21 games last year.
In the midfield, Clyde Simms is having his best season, and Ben Olsen's first appearance of the year against the Galaxy is another good sign.
Attacking midfielders Santino Quaranta and Fred are running at defenses but need to convert more and do better with their final passes. On the back line, Devon McTavish grows with each game, and Gonzalo Martinez's offensive runs have been impressive. Midfielder/defender Marc Burch is proving he is one of the better crossers and dead-ball specialists in the league, while defenders Bryan Namoff and Gonzalo Peralta are both doing a solid job.
In goal, Zach Wells still needs to become more confident, and a couple of shutouts should help.
"The good points are that we are starting to put the ball in the back of the net, and we didn't do that at the start of the season," McTavish said. "The bad point is we are still letting goals in. It's not as many as it was early in the season, but we are still having slip-ups. We are changing and starting to become a better team."
- It's almost impossible to be a soccer fan and not to have seen the mind-numbing Dick's Sporting Goods commercial starring Ben Olsen.
"I'm willing to give them the money back they paid me for the commercial if they would stop playing it," Olsen said.
The woman Olsen kisses in the ad is his wife, Megan.
"She would not allow me to kiss another woman, so she plays the part," Olsen said.
The child in the ad is not theirs. However, Olsen's wife is expecting the couple's first child.
"I wish they would stop playing it because it's ruining my soccer watching because every time it comes on I get into a bad mood and turn the TV off," Olsen added.