Defense-first Woolard brings consistency to DC back line

Defender Daniel Woolard of DC United

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WASHINGTON — After spending all of 2010 out of MLS, a rash of injuries have given D.C. United defender Daniel Woolard another chance to prove himself in the top flight.

When Marc Burch failed a late fitness test back on May 4 against the Seattle Sounders, opportunity knocked for Woolard, who prior to that had managed just a single start in league play. The left back responded with three solid performances in a row and has helped solidify what had been a shaky defense.

“He’s been steady, and where we were at with some ups and downs, we needed a guy who was consistent and we needed a hard-nosed defender,” coach Ben Olsen said. "That’s what he’s done for us."

In the last three league games, DC’s defense has only conceded two goals, a much more reassuring statistic after the team conceded eight goals in a two-game stretch in April. Even with the success of the back line, Woolard isn’t resting on his laurels. The journeyman will continue to try and keep hold of his starting role.

“I don’t think you ever feel like you’ve locked down a spot in this league,” he told MLSsoccer.com. “It’s a week-in, week-out deal to win a spot. I’ve been fortunate enough to get the opportunity through injury to get a chance to step in. Luckily, I’ve been able to do well enough to keep it for a little while.”

Woolard’s arrival in DC had been a long journey that came full circle in 2011. Invited into preseason last year after spending three seasons with the Chicago Fire, Woolard was a late cut. He eventually signed a deal and played some of the 2010 season with the Carolina Railhawks in the second division.

This January, United brought Woolard back in, and this time, the 27-year-old sealed his spot. Making the adjustment back to MLS hasn’t proved too difficult.

“The speed is a little bit different, but other than that, it was pretty much the same,” he said. “Getting back into it was fairly easy.”

For the first time as well, there’s been some consistency along DC’s back line. Woolard slots int the left back spot, with Ethan White, Dejan Jakovic and Perry Kitchen filling out the rest of defense.

Consistency, especially at the back, is crucial to a good defense.

“It’s been nice to put back-to-back games together with them,” Woolard said. “The more you play with someone, the more you get to know their tendencies and the communication gets better.”

Overall, Woolard has done enough to impress his head coach — at least for the time being.

“I think he’s been good,” Olsen said. “Still has some things to work with on on his end — [especially] getting forward — but first and foremost we want him to defend and make sure nothing comes down his side.”

Travis Clark covers D.C. United, College and Youth soccer for MLSsoccer.com. Follow him on Twitter: @travismclark