At the end of April, D.C. United were reeling. The club had dropped three straight in all competitions, conceding 11 goals in the process. Sloppy errors and poor play made it resemble 2010 all over again.
But just as things appeared to be heading south, with a new month came vast improvement. Lineup shuffling ahead of a May 4 matchup with Seattle Sounders triggered a response, and DC went on to go unbeaten in four matches in May, posting a 2-0-2 record that culminated with Sunday’s win in Portland.
Perhaps the most significant development in the month of May was the improvement of the back line. The defense clamped down, allowing only four goals in the four games.
“We’ve been staying compact defensively as a group, not giving away easy goals,” midfielder Chris Pontius told MLSsoccer.com by phone.
Consistency played a big role in that, as the same back four of Daniel Woolard, Dejan Jakovic, Ethan White and Perry Kitchen started in that stretch. Friday night, with a trip to league-leading LA on the slate, the defense will be put to the test with the departure of Jakovic to Gold Cup duty with Canada.
Another reason for the success is the play of Pontius. After being hampered all of last season with a hamstring injury, the midfielder has started all 11 games so far, leads the team in minutes played, and has already surpassed his goal total of last season with four thus far.
He’s been a mainstay on the left wing, running at defenders and becoming a weapon in the final third.
“I’m already so much happier this year than I was last year,” he said. “There’s just a lot of things that went wrong last year.”
With Pontius on the left and Andy Najar’s return to form on the right, DC’s offense is providing a compliment to the improving defense as well. They showed as much with the three-goal haul at Portland.
Despite the positive results, DC aren’t getting ahead of themselves. Carrying over the success of May will be a big challenge, starting this Friday night with a matchup against league leaders LA Galaxy at the Home Depot Center (11 pm ET, Fox Soccer).
The team remains one of the youngest in the league and knows they will continue to experience growing pains as they carve out an identity.
“We’re still evolving,” veteran forward Josh Wolff said. “I’m sure there’s going to be some more bumps along the way. But if we can continue to back each other up and put out a great effort, we can accomplish some good things.”
Travis Clark covers D.C. United, College and Youth soccer for MLSsoccer.com. Follow him on Twitter: @travismclark