WASHINGTON – Like many of the politicians who leave the nation's capital during its hottest month of the year, D.C. United’s defense went missing in August. During a three-match stretch last month, United allowed seven goals and struggled to defend set pieces.
One month later, goalkeeper Bill Hamid and his backline are playing far better, and it’s helped United win three consecutive matches, during which time they’ve yielded only one goal. In the process, D.C. have jumped from a tie for fifth to a tie for third in the Eastern Conference standings.
“My feeling is that it’s somewhat starting to mesh and come together,” center back Brandon McDonald said. “We’ve had some consistency in the back line. The same guys being back there, we’re starting to get a better understanding for each other.”
Indeed, the same quartet has been deployed by head coach Ben Olsen during his side’s three-match winning streak: Andy Najar, Dejan Jakovic, McDonald and Chris Korb. All four were particularly effective in D.C.’s 1-0 victory over Chivas USA on Sunday.
“The backline, we’ve been preaching staying organized and defending set pieces and staying as a unit throughout the 90 minutes,” Hamid said. “We’ve done extremely well in organizing these past few games.”
Through 30 matches, United have allowed 39 goals overall, but have only surrendered two goals in four games this month.
“Yeah, 1-0 wins, we don’t have many of them with this club the last few years,” Olsen said. “Hanging on, especially when these teams have nothing to lose and they’re just throwing crazy numbers forward, it’s not an easy task.”
That especially was the case against New England when the Revs recorded 28 attempts on goal, including six on target. But withstanding that frantic finish without conceding the equalizer was a big step forward for United.
“To maintain focus and finish out through the full 90 minutes has been huge,” Jakovic (pictured with Hamid, at right) said. “Nothing is sweeter than when you come out with a 1-0 win.”
This year, United have seven shutout victories and four 1-0 wins. Since 2007 – the last year D.C. made the playoffs – the Black-and-Red have a total of 15 shutout victories and seven 1-0 wins, underlining the ability of this year’s side to better preserve the clean sheet.
Especially when compared to last season.
“I think it’s a higher level of concentration” McDonald said. “You can see it in everybody. You look at last year, we were shaking and we were like, ‘We don’t want to give one up.' That’s the time we were giving the goals up. The past three games, we’ve been buckling down and you’re looking in guys’ eyes and the concentration they have, you can see it.”
So far in 2012, United have allowed six goals in the 75th minute. Last year, they allowed such a goal on 12 such occasions, including two in stoppage time against Chicago in a loss that all but ended United’s playoff hopes.
“It sucks to be up in a game and lose it in the last [few minutes],” Hamid said. “That’s not something we should be doing. Especially late in games, the focus should be here. But we’ve picked up on it.”