WASHINGTON – For Dejan Jakovic, the timing of D.C. United’s playoff-clinching victory against Columbus last Saturday could not have been better.
Four days prior, he witnessed what was arguably the most demoralizing loss he’s ever been a part of when the Canadian national team fell to Honduras, 8-1, in a World Cup qualifying match.
“What happened with Canada, obviously, was a nightmare,” Jakovic said. “But I kind of came back to D.C. and forgot about that. Then the focus was Columbus. And what more to ask for than to play this game and clinch a home playoff spot in front of your home fans?”
For Jakovic, the clinching victory that ended a five-year postseason drought in the District was even more meaningful because he, along with Chris Pontius, is one of the longer-tenured members on the club’s revamped roster.
“It’s crazy,” he said. “I don’t know the feeling. Obviously, I’ve never made it to the playoffs. I’m just excited to be a part of this team, a great organization, and finally make the playoffs.”
Jakovic’s first season in D.C. was in 2009. He’s played in 79 matches, including 22 in 2012. He even scored his first career goal earlier this season against New England. Last year, he played in only 15 matches before getting injured and missing United’s final 10 games. This time around, both he and Pontius were healthy for the stretch run.
“If you’re not healthy, you’re not playing,” Jakovic said. “The fact that I’m healthy is huge for me. When you’re always fighting injuries, you’re never able to get fit to the max point. Right now, I feel great and I’m fit.”
Jakovic has solidified his center back spot next to Brandon McDonald and has started eight matches in a row. In all eight, the 27-year-old played the full 90 minutes.
In the process, United’s defense has improved, allowing seven goals over that span. The defensive progress can be credited to both the cohesion among a consistent starting four along the backline during this unbeaten streak (5-0-1) and coach Ben Olsen’s decision to, tactically, become a defensive-minded side once captain Dwayne De Rosario was injured.
“We have a great group of guys and if we keep finding a way to win, hopefully that momentum helps us going forward,” Jakovic said. “The whole team looks good. The backline looks sharp. We’re organized and we’re defending as a team.
“I don’t think a lot of teams want to play against us right now.”