D.C. United has navigated an erratic few weeks, to say the least.
First, United’s stingy back line managed to concede more goals in games against the Philadelphia Union and Real Salt Lake than it had in the previous six matches combined. After scoring nine times in those two contests, United was outshot, 26-1, against the Montreal Impact on Saturday.
Those performances were strangely scattered. But United has achieved consistency in the only category that matters: the win column.
“We’ve won games playing well, we’ve won games coming from behind, we’ve won games on the road not particularly playing well,” midfielder Davy Arnaud said. “But it seems to be a theme with us that we find a way to get results.”
After becoming the first team in league history to overcome consecutive two-goal deficits with a 3-2 win over Philadelphia on July 26 and 6-4 triumph against Salt Lake on Aug. 1, United landed in the record book again Saturday. Notching a 1-0 victory in Montreal, Ben Olsen’s squad became the first team to win an MLS match while taking a single shot.
Against varying extreme odds, United (13-7-5) sits atop the MLS standings entering Thursday’s trip to face New York City FC (6-11-6) at Yankee Stadium.
“We’ve won in different ways with different drama,” Olsen said. “But we always talk about being a team that’s resilient and being able to adapt and be able to find ways to get results. That’s still what this is about.”
Injury absences have largely forced United to map out different avenues for success. Reigning MLS Goalkeeper of the Year Bill Hamid, who boasts a pristine 0.71 goals-against average, sat out those high-scoring affairs against Philadelphia and Salt Lake while recovering from surgeries on his left hand and right knee.
While Hamid returned against Montreal, striker Fabian Espindola — the team’s leader in goals and assists last season — missed that match with a minor knee injury. Hamid tied a career high with eight saves to preserve the shutout, but United suddenly was robbed of its attacking inspiration.
With Espindola doubtful for Thursday’s contest against an NYCFC team boasting firepower in the form of European stars Andrea Pirlo, Frank Lampard and David Villa, United knows it can’t get away with a repeat performance.
“We don’t want to rely on getting one shot on goal and that being enough,” Arnaud said. “That’s not going to last. We know that.”
Yet captain Bobby Boswell also chalked up the unpredictable performances to different opponents creating different circumstances.
As he noted, “It’s two teams involved — it’s not just us.”
“You guys say we don’t score enough, then we score six and we’re giving up too many,” Boswell said. “Then we get a shutout and we don’t score enough again. I don’t really care about of all that — I just care about results.”
If United keeps getting those results, the club could win the Supporters’ Shield — given to the regular season’s top team — for the first time since 2007. In doing so, the club would earn a bye to the Eastern Conference semifinals, ensure any MLS Cup final involving United will be at RFK Stadium and clinch a berth in the 2016-17 edition of the CONCACAF Champions League.
Although the players and coaches must work out some kinks in order to claim that trophy, United can credit its pole-position status to the unprecedented resilience shown in recent weeks.
“We certainly have to fine-tune things and get better as a group,” Olsen said. “But until that happens, it’s good that we can rely on having a bunch of different ways to win games.”