After rough start to 2017, DC United rediscover "character" in "gutsy" win

WASHINGTON — The dynamic attacking form that D.C. United displayed late last season may be several games from resurfacing.

The intestinal fortitude is still there, though, and Saturday’s 2-1 victory over the Philadelphia Union offered the latest proof.

“It was a gutsy performance,” head coach Ben Olsen said after his club’s first win of the season. “The field’s not good. A lot of second balls. And we found a way. And that shows that we still have the character that we thought we had.”

Jose Guillermo Ortiz opened his MLS account and snapped D.C.’s stretch of 288 scoreless minutes to start the season, and Luciano Acosta converted a penalty to make it 2-0 before halftime.

From there, United ground out three points against an equally desperate Union side that also entered Saturday looking for their first win.

D.C., though, have a better recent history of overcoming such slow starts.

They went six games before earning their first win last year. In 2014, they won the Eastern Conference regular-season crown despite opening the season by going 215 minutes without a goal — which had been their longest such stretch to open league play until now.

“The important thing is how much we trust each other,” veteran midfielder Marcelo Sarvas said. “People that are not here every day to see what we do or how train, of course judge you by one game. But we know the strength of our team.”

United still hope to regain the form that saw them close last season scoring 33 goals in 13 matches. Even with Ortiz making his first start up top while Patrick Mullins recovers from a hamstring injury, there were echoes of that at times.

Ortiz’s 18th-minute goal took a fortunate deflection and, in a different way, so did his intended cross that smacked off Richie Marquez’s arm to lead to Acosta’s penalty. Still, he combined well with Acosta and found himself in promising spots several times over the opening 45 minutes.

“There’s some other stuff that we need to continue to work with him,” Olsen said of Ortiz. “Just connections and time, playing with our other players. He hasn’t had a lot of minutes with the first team, and that’s both in training and in real games. All that stuff will get better.”

Like Ortiz, Sarvas also played at LD Alajuelense in Costa Rica (though not as teammates) before entering the league. And he's also optimistic about the Costa Rican international's transition in his debut MLS season.

“The tactical stuff, the technical stuff [is there],” Sarvas said. “I think now it’s just, you’ve got the physicality of the game. You have to be moving and running all the time. You don’t have much time with the ball. But he’s getting there. You saw today, he did a great job.”