WASHINGTON - D.C. United have won their share of games the pretty way. On Saturday afternoon, against the Philadelphia Union, they took a scrappier approach.
It wasn’t a cakewalk. Philadelphia — desperate to gather points to remain relevant in a rapidly fading playoff picture — brought some grit of their own to the table. They carved out a handful of opportunities in both halves, making life difficult for the home side. But United were simply too much for the Union, extending their home winning streak to five matches.
"It’s a win,” United midfielder Davy Arnaud told MLSsoccer.com after the match. "It’s not our best performance of the year. But we’re solid defensively and we grind when we need to grind, we get another timely goal. It would’ve been nice to get the second one but overall it’s another good performance at home.”
Finding themselves at the tail end of a brutal two-month span that’s seen them play a total of 13 games since the beginning of August — including a trip to Jamaica for a CCL encounter — United entered the match a bit wearier than normal. Unusually warm conditions didn’t help matters, as both clubs were forced to deal with an afternoon kickoff temperature of 83 degrees.
“They’re tired,” said D.C. head coach Ben Olsen in his post-game press conference. "It’s been a long haul here, it was a hot day, fittingly hot after all that we’ve been through in the last two months. A lot of these guys had to dig deep and find a way to get through it. It wasn’t always perfect, but once again they pulled out a result and a shutout.
"At times I still think we can manage the game a little better,” reflected Olsen. "It’s a good and bad thing at times – we have guys that are just so hungry and can score goals and have the ability to do it and it becomes a little bit of a back and forth. But I can’t say enough about a group in general, the way they’ve handled the last two months"
Arnaud was quick to praise his side’s workmanlike effort. The former Montreal Impact man thinks that United’s roster is built in a way that allows them to secure points in nearly every imaginable way, even when they’re not playing their best soccer.
"I think we have the character to do that. I think we have the players to do that. like i said, there’s gonna be times when we’re capable of scoring 3, 4 goals a game because we have players that are capable of doing that. But if we need to grind it out we got players who are willing to do that, too. On a day like today, it’s not the prettiest, it’s hot, the field was a little sticky and it was just gonna be one of those games, and we did it and I think that’s the sign of a good team.”
The win stretches United’s lead atop the Eastern Conference to six points, and things don’t get much easier later this week: United welcome third place Sporting Kansas City on Friday evening, an encounter that goalkeeper Bill Hamid is eager to take part in.
"KC is doing well to keep pressure on us, New England is coming hard and fast. We want the number one spot and we’re gonna keep pushing for it. Now the goal is to get as many points as possible, even if we go on the road - we have to get one point, we have to lock it down. We want to keep climbing the ladder so we can clinch that number one spot."