Revitalized DC reap the rewards when defenders attack

Brandon McDonald

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WASHINGTON – When Ben Olsen was named interim head coach of D.C. United in August 2010, he took over the most anemic offense in the league. The club that once dominated MLS with prolific playmakers and aggressive goalscorers was barely recognizable, thanks to a franchise-low 21 goals and just nine assists during a tumultuous and ultimately terrible season.

One look at the stats now, and it’s no wonder D.C. are back in the mix among the best teams in the league. They’ve scored 20 goals through 11 games this season, returning them to their familiar ways as one of the best offensive outfits in MLS.

But the goals aren’t all necessarily coming from the expected places. United's defenders are doing their fair share of the heavy lifting these days, notching a combined five assists and one goal in the past three games for Olsen’s revitalized crew.

WATCH: Woolard finishes Najar cross

“We are certainly better than last year, and most certainly better than two years ago,” Olsen told  MLSsoccer.com. “[But] we got a long way to go. The East seems like it is good this year. A lot of teams in the [Eastern Conference] are finding their rhythm. We have a couple of games in hand, but I think the position we are in is favorable right now.”

That’s largely because of D.C.’s attempts at getting their outside backs forward and into the attack. With Perry Kitchen protecting the back four, it's easier for the likes of Daniel Woolard, Robbie Russell and Chris Korb to push up, a sign of the emphasis that has been placed on attacking just as much as defending.

Woolard has a goal and an assist in the last three games, and center back Brandon McDonald (above) has amassed three assists in that time. Even Andy Najar picked up an assist in the team’s wild 5-3 loss to San Jose last week while moonlighting as a defender.

“It creates issues for other teams,” Olsen said. “That plus one, in particular, out wide, has helped. [Woolard] is really growing into a guy that can get forward. And [Russell] has always been able to do it.”

While some of the goals have come from open play – think Woolard’s goal from Najar’s cross or Chris Pontius’ goal against Toronto from McDonald’s pass – others are coming indirectly from set pieces. Scoring goals directly from corners hasn’t improved yet under Olsen, but this season has seen United score several times right after an initial set piece.

“We have had a couple of set-piece orientated goals, which is nice,” Olsen said. “Not directly off the corner, but it is second and third bites of it, and that is promising. We are hungry, and set pieces are one of things that we want to improve on in the offensive end.”

D.C. United return to action on the road against the Houston Dynamo on Saturday (4:30 pm ET, NBC Sports Network).