WASHINGTON - It was a good night for D.C. United.
Needing only a single point to wrap their hands around their first first-place conference finish in eight years, United got that and more: they handed the Chicago Fire a 2-1 loss, climbing further ahead in the conference standings and putting the New England Revolution permanently out of reach.
And there was more: United also secured a 2015-2016 CONCACAF Champions League berth with the victory – and did it in front of their first sellout crowd of the year – in the process setting an MLS record for biggest single-season turnaround in league history. The 42 point swing between this year’s group and 2013’s bests the previous all-time mark set by the 2000 NY/NJ MetroStars.
Despite all of this, much of the talk in United’s locker room after the match was less self-congratulatory and more self-critical, the mark of this group of veterans and youngsters that has been among the most consistent in the league throughout the regular season.
"Even in the first half, I don’t think we were very clean,” United midfielder Chris Pontius – who notched his first league goal in over a year – told MLSsoccer.com after the match. "We got the goals, but we know we’re very capable of playing better soccer than that. Once again, we managed to grind it out – we were a little leggy tonight. Other than that, we have one more game to correct this. We’ll look a that game and try and correct our problems [from tonight.]”
“You look at the game tonight,” added United head coach Ben Olsen, "we weren’t great, we didn’t play them off the pitch, they came with a real energy and a fight about them that was tough to match for us. [We’ve been in] a little bit of a lull, I was really impressed with Chicago in the first half."
United moved the ball well enough throughout the match but at times conceded a bit too much time and space, especially during stretches of a wide-open second half that saw the Fire string together a series of quality chances. After the match, several of United’s players agreed with that assessment, chalking the performance up to a tough week of training and suggesting that adjustments likely needed to be made.
- Check out the latest D.C. United news at DCUnited.com
“The soccer wasn’t the greatest tonight,” said United captain Bobby Boswell. "We’re probably gonna get our asses chewed out in a video meeting [this coming week].
"It was a combination of things,” Boswell continued. "It was our approach – if anything I think we may trained too hard this week, so maybe we were a little leggy. I know I was, a little bit – I’ll talk to our staff about that. At the end of the day, we have to still be better, we’re priming ourselves for the playoffs. We can’t come out and play like that in the playoffs.”
"Long story short,” added Olsen, "we have some work to do the next week or two to continue to try and become a better team.”