For the moment, D.C. United has stopped the bleeding. The club also may have found its creative spark.
United gave up 11 goals in three consecutive losses in all competition late last month. Things had to change, and they have. A stable back line and an impressive performance by midfielder Andy Najar gave United a 2-1 win and a much-needed confidence boost against the Seattle Sounders on Wednesday night at RFK Stadium. It bodes well for United's clash with FC Dallas (3-3-1, 10 points) Saturday night at RFK Stadium in the second match of a vital three-game homestand.
Some tinkering with the back line by coach Ben Olsen seemed to work. United (3-4-1, 10 points) didn't give up a goal in the run of play against the Sounders, who earned only a late penalty kick. But the real bright spot was the return to form of Najar, whose running and passing served as the catalyst for the club's goals.
"His energy looks better, his spirit looks better, and I was very excited for him to be back," Olsen said.
Najar clearly was the biggest factor in Wednesday's turnaround, setting up situations for veteran strikers Charlie Davies and Josh Wolff to get back on the score sheet.
"Andy is a terrific player," said Davies. "Of course, he's young so he's going to have those ups and downs. It's his second season, and a lot of guys now know who he is. They know that he is tricky on the ball, and that he has pace, and is quick and feisty. But he showed that when he gets the ball he's not scared to run at guys. When he does that, he's extremely dangerous and really helps this team."
Last season, Najar was the only bright spot in a forgettable year for United. His efforts won him MLS rookie of the year honors. But the 18-year-old played poorly in a number of games this year, baffling his coach and fans. Suddenly he was on the bench. There were reports that the youngster had arrived at preseason training unfit, unfocused, and perhaps a little overwhelmed from his rookie season.
"I'm very happy that the coaching staff has given me the opportunity to be back in the starting lineup," Najar said this week. "I now have to take advantage of this opportunity."
Against Seattle, Olsen gave Najar his third start and the midfielder came to life.
He created United's first goal with a perfect pass for Davies to set up Wolff, who notched his second goal of the campaign.
"He's quite crafty and courageous when he has the ball," Wolff said. "We want to see him make more of those plays."
Najar again was the provider for United's second goal, threading a pass to Wolff who set up Davies for his MLS-leading sixth goal of the year. Najar was bringing out the best in United's strikers.
"Andy's final ball was fantastic, and it was great that Josh gave Charlie one, and then Charlie gave Josh one, right on the spot," Olsen said.
United's defense finally looks more comfortable. In Wednesday's win, Olsen moved Perry Kitchen, 19, from the center to the right side and played Ethan White, 20, in the middle alongside Dejan Jakovic. Left back Daniel Woolard played in his second league game, replacing the injured Marc Burch. It all seemed to work.
"I asked [Kitchen] about playing there and how he felt, and he is the type of kid that says, 'Yeah, let's do it,'" Olsen said.
Now the team has to deal with FC Dallas. The Texas club is coming off an impressive 2-1 win over Western Conference leaders, the Los Angeles Galaxy. United's young defense surely will be tested by FC's speedsters Fabian Castillo and Brek Shea, though Dallas will be without reigning league MVP David Ferreira as he recovers from a broken ankle.
FC Dallas won both league meetings a year ago, 1-0 at Pizza Hut Park in May and 3-1 at RFK in August. It was FC's first win in Washington since 2005.
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