DC Notebook: Nothing but praise as Santos plays the hero

CHESTER, Pa. – Following Thursday night’s 1-0 road victory over Philadelphia, a lot of the conversation in D.C. United's locker room was centered on the ball that forward Maicon Santos sent to Chris Pontius that led to the game’s lone goal.

Santos, who subbed on in the 57th minute, carved a 45-yard through ball to the streaking attacker. Yes, it was helped by a deflection, but it was still the kind of game-breaking play that United have lacked recently.

“I saw [Santos] pick his head up and then I timed my run,” Pontius said. “It was an unbelievable ball.”

READ: United get confidence boost after "huge win" at Philly

It marks the second straight match United coach Ben Olsen has made a substitution that has paid off – both times for midfielder Branko Boksovic.

“We hung in there early and then Maicon came in and really helped out,” Olsen said. “He changed the game. But I’ve made a lot more substitutions that haven’t made an impact. If you add them all up, I’m sure I’m in the negative.”

Santos, who was sidelined for five matches with a toe injury, will likely need to continue playing well in the absence of captain Dwayne De Rosario.

“I felt good,” Santos said. “It feels good to come in and help the team get the three points we need.”

Neal solid again

After playing the role of hero in a 2-1 win against New England last Saturday by scoring the game-winning goal as a sub, United midfielder Lewis Neal was rewarded with a full 90 minutes in Thursday’s win.

“I haven’t had many 90s this season," he said. "I’m feeling a little tired, but obviously, when you win like that, it makes you feel a whole lot better."

Neal started for the fifth time this season and played the entire match for the third time. After the match, Olsen was pleased with his English midfielder’s effort.

“I thought he was great,” Olsen said. "He’s a smart player. Not only on the ball, making the right decision for the most part, but he also is a voice out there. It was good to see a guy kind of directing some traffic out there toward the end."

Clean sheet

Despite some shaky moments early on and nearly conceding a bad goal on a rebound that he couldn’t corral, goalkeeper Bill Hamid pitched his sixth shutout of the season. In a game where the Union dominated possession, 58-42 percent, and attempts on goal, 14-7, Hamid and his backline withstood a strong second-half rush from Philly to preserve the side’s first clean sheet since August 4.

“This was a tough game,” defender Dejan Jakovic said. “We defended for 75 minutes of the game, but defensively, we were solid. We scored the goal we needed and got the shutout.”