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Playoffs well within reach for improved DC United squad

WASHINGTON — A year ago at this time, it would have been foolish to suggest a playoff push for D.C. United.

But thanks to the combination of head coach Ben Olsen, an offseason rebuilding project, and a more talented group of players, DC have improved dramatically and are right in the thick of things in the Eastern Conference.

After Saturday’s 3-3 draw against Toronto, United are two points outside of a playoff spot, and at times, look capable of making a push towards securing their first postseason berth since 2007.

“We have our moments,” assistant coach Chad Ashton said. “You can look back, especially at this last game. They are some real positives — we worked our tails off for 85 minutes being down a man.”

The margin in the East is razor-thin, with DC only trailing first-place Columbus by seven points with two games in hand. However, Ashton and the rest of the coaching staff know that there is still plenty to work on, citing costly moments in the Toronto match that ultimately cost DC the full three points.

“We made some bad mistakes,” said Ashton. “Taking a red card in the first five minutes — you’re not going to win too many games when you do that. Marking on set pieces on the third goal — not good enough. We gave away two points in that game by blowing two or three plays.”

Those moments have, for whatever reason, plagued United at home more so than on the road this season. Through 21 games, DC have picked up only 12 points of a possible 33 at home, while collecting an impressive 15 of 30 away from RFK Stadium.

“We’ve got to take care of business at home,” defender Dejan Jakovic said. “It’s crucial — the standings in the East are so close.”

The recent addition of Dwayne De Rosario has given new life to the offense as well. The Canadian international has scored the team’s last six goals in league matches, and he looks capable of carrying DC towards a postseason berth.

However, even with the playoffs a real possibility, United are not getting carried away, and won’t overlook this Saturday’s matchup against Vancouver (7:30 pm ET, watch LIVE online).

“It’s cliché, but you’ve got to take each one of these [games] as they come,” forward Josh Wolff said. “The playoffs are there [within reach].”

Travis Clark covers D.C. United, college and youth soccer for MLSsoccer.com. Follow him on Twitter: @travismclark.