Saturday's win for D.C. United over the Philadelphia Union was not a lesson in attractive soccer. It was not a clinic in putting away an opponent, or a blueprint for playing the other side off the pitch.
But what United's 1-0 win did prove was that the current Eastern Conference leaders could scrap results on the road when a draw looked to be the best they could hope for. United never threatened to win the game, until they found themselves in front, courtesy of Chris Pontius' 78th minute winner.
“You get to this point of the season and you have to scrap for the points," Canadian international Dwayne De Rosario told reporters after the match. "It is the interstate rivalry and they came out strong. After the bad start, we kept our heads and came away with the points.”
HIGHLIGHTS: PHI 0, DC 1
In a sense, United was up against more than just the side that had defeated them the previous week in the US Open Cup. With Peter Nowak departing midweek, the Union came out galvanized under the new leadership of John Hackworth. That was especially evident in the opening stanza of the game, as the Union came close to an early advantage on several occasions.
“They were finding seams early on," goalkeeper Bill Hamid added. "But credit to the backline they came up big tonight, whether it was blocking crosses, or getting the clearances.”
As they have several times this season, United withstood the early onslaught, riding timely defensive plays from the entire backline to prevent the Union from finding the opening goal. As the game wore on, the defense tightened up, but the attack, so explosive for much of the season, failed to threaten Philadelphia's Zac MacMath in net.
A draw seemed inevitable if Hamid was not beaten. But Branko Boskovic's wonderfully crafted free kick was perfectly placed for Pontius, who ghosted in to volley the ball home.
"Boskovic had an unbelieveable free kick," head coach Ben Olsen said. "I was happy that Pontius was able to get the goal.”
Unlikely as it may be that the game will be remembered for the level of play, the result just might signal the ability of United to grind games out when results are to be had.
“The little bit of the layoff had us a little rusty," Olsen added, "but we will hopefully the soccer stuff will get better,"