WASHINGTON — What a difference a year makes.
After picking up three points last weekend over rivals New York, D.C. United matched their point total from all of last season, 22, at just the halfway point of 2011.
“It feels great,” defender Dejan Jakovic said of the improvement. “Obviously, last year was miserable. Coming off a big win [against New York], we’re moving in the right direction, right where we want to be.”
As is typical for any team coming off a poor season, plenty of changes were made to DC’s roster, with the overall aim to simply improve the team’s talent. Forwards Charlie Davies, Joe Ngwenya and Josh Wolff were added, US youth international Perry Kitchen fell to them in the SuperDraft, and Ethan White was signed to a Home Grown contract.
All have played their part in the rebuild, with rookies Kitchen and White playing significant minutes in defense, and Wolff and Davies leading a rejuvenated offense that has already surpassed their 2010 goal total as well.
Club great Ben Olsen, who took over in August of last year and was named head coach as part of the offseason changes, has shown to be the right person for the job. Everything he was known for as a player — his high work rate, fiery personality and leadership style — translates into his coaching.
“He’s a guy that will get into when you need to get into and he’s also a guy that respects you as a person and demands that respect as a coach,” midfielder Chris Pontius said. “Everything’s gone pretty smooth with him this year.”
However, Olsen deflected credit away from himself and onto the fact that the roster is much improved.
“I don’t think it’s anything necessarily that I’m doing,” Olsen quipped. “We’re just a better group of players,” Olsen said.
While the new additions are making their mark, holdovers from last year are contributing as well.
After a slow start to the season, last year’s Rookie of the Year, Andy Najar, continues to electrify on the right flank, while another Academy product, goalkeeper Bill Hamid, is growing and improving each game.
But perhaps most important is the health of Pontius, who leads the team in minutes played and is one of two DC players to appear in every game. Last year, a hamstring injury limited him even when on the field. After recovering from offseason surgery, he’s back to terrorizing opposing defenders on the left wing.
“It helps us a ton,” midfielder Clyde Simms said of having a healthy Pontius. “I think he keeps teams on their toes, looks to take guys on, and get forward every time he gets the ball. That’s something we’ve lacked.”
Things may be better so far, but Olsen & Co. know that work remains if they hope to reach their goal of qualifying for the playoffs. Their two latest additions, Dwayne De Rosario and Brandon McDonald, will have their say as the second half of the season begins this weekend on the road against FC Dallas.
Travis Clark covers D.C. United, College and Youth soccer for MLSsoccer.com. Follow him on Twitter: @travismclark.