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Much-improved defense keying United's playoff run

Brandon McDonald

Photo Credit: 
Getty Images

WASHINGTON — There’s no question about the massive impact Dwayne De Rosario has made for D.C. United. But as big as DeRo has been in the team’s recent success, a continually improving back line has been just as vital as the club eye a playoff spot.

With last weekend’s 4-0 win over Vancouver, DC’s goal differential this season finally broke dead even, with 33 for and against. It's taken weeks of stinginess to get there after some weak defensive performances eariler in the season.

“It takes time, and when you give it time, good things happen,” goalkeeper Bill Hamid said. “It’s shown _ we’ve had a couple of shutout performances.”

It’s been a real contrast to the beginning of the season. In April, DC’s much-maligned defense conceded four goals in back-to-back games on national television. Slowly but surely, the team improved. Set pieces are no longer a weakness, and the focus over the course of the entire game, from the back to the front, is sharper.

“We’re focused, concentrating for the whole 90 [minutes] and not just the back four,” defender Dejan Jakovic said. “We’re defending as a team and also punishing teams.”

Last weekend's win seemed to prove the point as DC shut down Eric Hassli, Vancouver’s leading goal-scorer, and kept the shutout in a big win at home.

Two players who have been pivotal are starting center backs Jakovic and Brandon McDonald. The pair only recently started playing together — McDonald was acquired from the San Jose Earthquakes at the end of June, and Jakovic returned from a long absence with injury at the end of July.

The two have done well in their time together, and since the McDonald deal DC have outscored their opponents 12-6. Complementing the middle has been the steady duo of Daniel Woolard on the left and rookie Perry Kitchen on the right side. The two have started every league match since May 4.

But the point is certainly sinking in: It’s down to all 11 guys on the field, not just the defense, to defend, giving De Rosario and the rest of the offense the chance to win games.

“In front of [the defense] the way we move and defend and operate helps out our back line, and it’s vice versa when we go into attack — they’re the guys pushing us forward,” forward Josh Wolff said.

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