On a cold Saturday afternoon in Toronto, D.C. United escaped BMO Field with a 1-0 victory that felt a little bit like stealing.
Hamdi Salihi, who last scored on June 30, buried the game-winner in the 88th minute after a brutal mistake by Toronto goalkeeper Milos Kocic, vaulting United into third in the Eastern Conference.
So how does United coach Ben Olsen feel all of this?
“I felt a little bit like a thief,” he said following the crucial win against the league’s worst side, one that will likely help D.C. end a four-year stretch without a postseason appearance. “Maicon [Santos] makes a great play down the line and gets his shot on goal and Hamdi is there for the finish. Most of our games can go either way. We are just finding ways to win right now.”
Indeed. It’s been far from pretty, but since captain Dwayne De Rosario was announced out for the remainder of the regular season, D.C. haven’t lost. Against five clubs with losing records, United are 4-0-1, including 2-0-1 on the road, and have recorded three clean sheets. All three of those shutouts have been 1-0 wins.
Saturday’s road victory was arguably the ugliest of them all, but Salihi – United’s only Designated Player – scored the sixth goal of his admittedly frustrating season when D.C. needed him most.
“It’s always good when you score. For me, it was something special because it was a long time,” Salihi said. “I didn’t play too much, didn’t score for long time and it’s not easy, but this is a period like every player can have happen in your career. It’s good when you trust in yourself, you believe in yourself and you continue to work.”
Of Salihi’s six goals this season, three are against Toronto and all have come in the 60th minute or later. The Albanian forward came on in the 64th minute, replacing Lionard Pajoy. Despite playing 61 total minutes for United since his last start – Aug. 4 against Columbus – he made the run that could prove pivotal in upholding United’s postseason aspirations.
“Maybe I thought he will cross in zone. I go to my place in 18-yard zone and I hope ball will come there,” Salihi said. “When I saw Maicon already shoot, I believe that ball will come to me, I make my run and was little bit also lucky. But it’s good.”
Bolstered by the superb efforts of goalkeeper Bill Hamid, the defense and Olsen’s successful substitutions, United are dangerously close to heading back to the playoffs with a rather unorthodox run.
“We found a way,” Olsen said. “We’re not saying we’re the top team in the league, but there is something about us, with our spirit, where we are finding ways to win.”