With two matches left to play in their 2020 season, D.C. United are in a place few expected them to be just a few weeks ago: on the cusp of the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs.
The team's 1-0 win on Wednesday over Columbus Crew SC was its third straight, and put them level on points with an Inter Miami team currently holding down the East's 10th and final playoff spot on a tiebreaker. While there's still work to be done and maybe a bit of luck to be had, interim head coach Chad Ashton expressed belief in what his squad's doing.
"It's great," he remarked. "We're clawing our way, we're fighting our way to be in it. We'll have to evaluate where we're at tomorrow ... but once again, they left it all out there. We found a way, and that's what we said we had to do tonight, was just find a way to get three points."
Scoring hero Julian Gressel pointed out that the team's chance to make the playoffs is "probably as high as it's ever been, to be honest with you," before relishing where the team's gotten to in recent weeks.
"I mean, we just won our third game in a row ... I feel like everybody kind of forgot about us and who we are," Gressel said. "We've kind of embraced that over the last few weeks. We know we're going to continue to try and put ourselves in the best spot possible. And I think we're right in the mix now and we're excited, man. We're a group that believes, that's on the same page. We believe in each other. No matter who plays, no matter who comes in off the bench, everybody's working for each other and that's exactly what we want. We'll see what happens in the next two games."
Highlights: D.C. United 1, Columbus 0
Gressel's first-half goal turned out to be the only tally of the match, and Ashton was complimentary of the midfielder's overall performance. "It was a great goal, a great finish. I thought he got a lot of real dangerous service in, he helped a lot with our possession.
"It was a well-worked goal by the guys, good buildup. That's stuff we've been working on during the practice days that we do have. We don't have a ton of them, but we are trying to fine-tune some things here and there, and it's nice when you see some of that come to fruition."
Gressel, in turn, complimented his teammates for working the ball around the field to set up the goal. Regarding his contribution, he remarked, "I got a little bit lucky maybe on the deflection, but ultimately, I think it was a very good team goal."
Much of the match, especially once the teams returned from halftime, was a grinding, physical match that was ultimately effective for extending D.C.'s season.
"We ended up doing a little bit more defending than we wanted to in the second half, but I think that was looking at the score and saying, 'OK, we're not going to risk a lot of numbers going forward. We're going to take a little bit of a conservative approach,'" Ashton said. "It's all about getting results. It doesn't matter what it looks like at this point."
"Everyone dug deep and did our job and we came up with the result," said Donovan Pines, who had a solid match at center back. "We really wanted to come in and dominate the game from the start and focus on our strengths: playing out the back, trying to be quick with the ball. We got that goal early on, in the first half, and we stayed focused. Everyone in the locker room was still so happy after the game ... everybody did their part today and I'm really proud of the whole team."