Winning ugly: In scrappy recent results, DC United see hallmarks of a playoff team

WASHINGTON – D.C. United won ugly on Saturday night. But for now, that's a beautiful thing for Ben Olsen and his squad.

Fresh off the worst season in league history, United staged a sweeping overhaul of their roster over the winter with 14 new acquisitions – and D.C.’s preseason duly felt very much like a group of strangers feeling each other out. Their first two regular-season matches, both losses to Eastern Conference foes, showed only slow, incremental progress at best.

Yet United have since addressed the problem with perhaps the best possible remedy: results. The Black-and-Red scraped together seven points from a three-game homestand with a series of scrappy, tenacious performances, and perhaps more importantly, they’ve started to show a bit of chemistry as well.

“We talked about this,” Olsen told MLSsoccer.com after his team's 1-0 victory over the New York Red Bulls on Saturday night. “We said that until we are clicking everywhere around the field and really have our identity of who we are, we've got to find a way to get points. And I think we did that tonight.”

United’s two victories certainly haven’t been dominating performances. Against New England, their game winner came at the expense of Revolution defender José Gonçalves, who buried an own-goal. On Saturday, it was United midfielder Davy Arnaud doing the dirty work, getting on the end of a flicked-on corner kick in the fourth minute and giving D.C. the luxury of sitting back a bit. 

"This sport is a funny game. You can play the best soccer, create a lot of chances and not put the ball in the back of the net,” reflected forward Eddie Johnson. "You can grind out games, nick something and then defend for the rest of the game and then win games.

“That’s the nature of the game – imagine when we start playing better, creating more chances and scoring goals."

Johnson, more than anyone, was supposed to be United’s goalscorer in 2014 – and he still very well may turn out to be just that. But after five games without a goal from their newest Designated Player, D.C. have somehow still managed to pick up points. 

To Arnaud, United’s recent adaptability is a characteristic shared by many of the league’s most successful clubs.

“That’s what our league is about,” said Arnaud. “You’re not going to find any team that goes out week in and week out and puts on an unbelievable performance, just walks over teams. It’s not gonna happen. It’s a cliché, but good teams do find ways to win games. This wasn’t our best performance.

“That won’t be our best performance at home all year for sure. But at the end of the day, we walk out of here with three points and that’s what it’s all about. We’re picking up wins while we’re growing.”