With a big 3-0 win over Chivas USA last weekend, D.C. United took one step closer to the playoffs.
Under head coach Ben Olsen, DC are going though a radical transformation after posting the worst mark in the league in 2010. Already improved by leaps and bounds, the three points over the weekend bumped United into a wild card spot for the first time all year.
However, plenty of work remains and the schedule is tough, with the games coming thick and fast by the end of October. But the team continues to set its sights high.
“We know the playoffs are nine games away,” forward Charlie Davies said after Saturday’s 3-0 win over Chivas USA. “We want to be in the top three, forget the wild card. The push starts now.”
With all to play for, here are three keys to D.C. United finally making the playoffs.
1. Defend home turf
While playing away from RFK Stadium, DC have enjoyed a pretty successful run: Their 5-4-4 mark on the road is best in the East.
But in order to make the playoffs, they must improve on their 3-3-6 home record. With five games remaining at home in the season – including the final three games of the regular season – winning four of them could be enough to push United over the hump and into the postseason.
2. Keep Davies on track
Davies suffered a few nagging injuries during a tough summer in which the goals simply dried up. But after a long layoff between games, a fit and fresh Davies burst back to life against Chivas USA — he bagged a hat trick, and could have added one or two more.
“I saw Charlie Davies back today, which is a great sign for this club,” Olsen said after the game.
While Chris Pontius played a huge part in all three goals, Davies must continue to put himself into dangerous positions, stretch defenses with his speed and, most importantly, finish.
The three goals last weekend will do wonders for his confidence, and a free-scoring Davies can make a big difference down the stretch, especially with Dwayne De Rosario also packing a scoring punch.
3. Put together consecutive wins
Winning two games in a row is a simply notion, but it’s something that DC haven’t been able to do all season.
In fact, they haven't won back-to-back games since June 2009. Though there have been numerous chances this season to string wins together, it has proved elusive.
Even after Saturday’s victory against Chivas, DC have still played the fewest games in the league. However, while that provides a sliver of comfort, they know they need to go out and still get three points each time.
“Having games in hand, you can always say you have those games in hand, but you have to win those games,” midfielder Santino Quaranta said. “I don’t care if you have five in hand, you have to still play them and win them.”
Travis Clark covers D.C. United, college and youth soccer for MLSsoccer.com