WASHINGTON – As powerful, inspiring and celebratory as Lewis Neal’s game-winning goal in the 91st minute of Saturday’s match against Columbus at RFK Stadium was, it could be argued that D.C. United midfielder Marcelo Saragosa’s equalizer in the 59th minute was just as monumental.
The goal was his first of the season, the third of his career and it was scored in honor of his late father, Gilson, who passed away in April.
“Every player worked well in helping me score this goal,” he said. “I score this goal with my heart. I worked hard, believe in myself and I know I can score.”
Saragosa’s unlikely strike was one of a series of positive contributions from unlikely sources since captain Dwayne De Rosario was injured in the second week of September.
“I think we’ve grown closer since Dwayne went down,” head coach Ben Olsen said following the 3-2 victory. “That’s obviously not a negative toward Dwayne, but I think everybody understood that we have to be a real team now and we have to commit to each other and bail each other out. Everyone’s buying into their role right now.
“It helps to win. You have to have the results to have people buy in, but I think they’ve all come together as a group.”
As a result, a club that was fifth in the East on Sept. 20 has a chance – albeit slim – to finish atop the conference with a win Saturday, provided Sporting Kansas City loses to Philadelphia on Wednesday.
“I’m really happy for them,” said Olsen, who has vaulted himself into the conversation for the Coach of the Year award thanks in large part to a six-match unbeaten streak since De Rosario’s injury. “They’re very excited, but they want more. I think this group still thinks they can do some things.”
Dynamic outside backs
Lost in the jubilant aftermath of D.C. clinching a playoff spot for the first time since 2007 was the continued improved play from their outside backs, Andy Najar and Chris Korb.
Left back Korb, in particular, was effective Saturday in neutralizing Columbus’ chances to send the ball into dangerous spots as the Crew managed 12 open play crosses to D.C.’s 28.
Since Daniel Woolard was sidelined with a concussion, Korb has started 12 matches in his place (14 straight overall) and played the full 90 in all but one of them.
“Andy and Korb both had great games,” Olsen said. “Andy’s movement and his ability to 1-v-1 defend and get out of situations [is strong]. Korb was great all night long. He got around the corners quite a few times. That’s a big deal. And Andy is really growing into that position.”