WASHINGTON – Despite winning three matches in eight days and climbing from sixth to a tie for third in the Eastern Conference standings, D.C. United head coach Ben Olsen is urging cautious optimism when assessing his club’s recent run.
“I think the guys have all raised their game,” he said following Sunday night’s 1-0 victory over Chivas USA. “We’ve rode out luck at times, too. Let’s not go crazy here. We could have had ties or losses in all three of these games. They weren’t overwhelmingly dominating.”
But perhaps United were due for a bit of luck. After a tumultuous August where the team felt like draws against Philadelphia and New York should have been victories, they’ve now taken three in a row against weaker opponents.
Leading scorer Chris Pontius seconded Olsen’s sentiment after the match.
“I would say [confidence] is at a high level,” he said. “We’re winning games, but it hasn’t been where we’re blowing teams away. I think we can play a lot better. We’ve gotten away with maybe one or two this week taking plays off. Myself included. I didn’t have a good week.
“I think we can just be a lot cleaner as a team in possession and throughout the whole game. But three wins in a week, you can’t complain too much.”
With road matches against Portland and Toronto on tap before the final two critical regular-season matches (vs. Columbus, at Chicago), United can’t afford to let up.
Still, D.C. already have more wins this September than they did in their final 12 matches of 2011 – all without the services of captain Dwayne De Rosario, who’s out for the remainder of the regular season.
“They’re grinding and they’re surviving,” Olsen said. “They understand we don’t have Dwayne, but they understand that it’s going to take a group-type mentality now to get us to where we want to be.”
Pajoy making an impact
Lost in the celebration of Branko Boskovic’s first MLS goal was the assist from the player who set up the Montenegrin’s forward-diving header: Lionard Pajoy.
The Colombian, who has been a consistent favorite of Olsen’s since being acquired from Philadelphia in mid-August for Danny Cruz, played a useful cross to Boskovic after beating two defenders on the right side.
He first eluded John Alexander Valencia and Jorge Villafaña’s pressure by cutting back and holding the ball just outside the box. He then cut to his right against Villafaña, beat him one-on-one and quickly sent the right-footed chip to Boskovic.
“Pajoy does a great job, gets it to Branko and he’s in the right spot at the right time,” Pontius said.
In eight starts with D.C., Pajoy has two goals and an assist and has played the full 90 minutes five times. United are 4-2-2 since acquiring him.
Consecutive clean sheets
While a large part of the worry surrounding United’s performance without De Rosario centered on the production of the offense, it turns out United’s backline had other ideas.
During D.C.’s three-game winning streak, United have allowed one goal and the defense was again strong Sunday as Bill Hamid recorded his second consecutive shutout seventh of the season.
“It gives us a lot more confidence, the fact that we’ve gotten two shutouts in a row and two great games of defense,” the young goalkeeper said. “You have to take your hat off to the holding mids and defense.”
It’s also the first time this season United have posted back-to-back clean sheets.
“We’re getting goals from everyone,” said defender Chris Korb. “We’re getting shutouts again. We’re peaking at a good time.”