And now let's dig into the nominees for the D.C. United player of the month for September 2012.
AMT: September was a tough month for D.C. United. We saw our captain and best player hit the shelf for the season, and with him went the most important piece in our attack. In Dwayne De Rosario's absence, several players have stepped up to give the Black-and-Red a record of 3 wins and 1 loss. But none more than Dejan Jakovic. The Canadian international has gotten closer to consistently realizing his huge upside over the last month than at any point in his career. (As an aside, if Canada injures him - again - like they did DeRo, I might have to start lobbying for some kind of war on America's Hat. Whether it's a trade war or a nuclear war I haven't decided yet.) Jakovic solidified his partnership with Brandon McDonald, to the tune of a mere three goals conceded in five games during September, and never more than one in a game. In a month where the team only scored five goals, the low goals-against and especially the two clean sheets are incredibly huge parts of why we're still in the playoff positions this late in the year. Without Dejan Jakovic, I think it's very likely we're on the outside of the playoff picture looking in, rather than the other way around.
Stephen: In hindsight, I think we will look back on the month of September as the pivotal stretch of the season for D.C. United. Following the loss of Dwayne De Rosario during the 2-week international break in early September, United has suprisingly gone unbeaten in the 4 games since a loss at Real Salt Lake on Sep. 1. Having left Utah sitting in 6th place in the Eastern Conference, then having to sit through the 2-week international break during which DeRo was lost, the club suprisingly earned 3 wins and a draw in the second half of the month to find itself in playoff position as the #4 Eastern seed. At the core of this September resurgence has been the defense, and Dejan Jakovic has been its best player. Consideration also goes to Chris Pontius for leading the team in DeRo's absence, and Bill Hamid is also deserving with some good showings as well (having probably won the New England match for D.C. United). Overall, however, Jakovic has been indispensable and his play assures United fans that the team can keep any match close through the balance of the regular season and into the playoffs.
Benuski: Most of you don't like him. He's easily the most frustrating player on the team and the most frustrating player since the Charlie Davies Experiment. He is not the best player of the month (that would probably be Dejan Jakovic), but I argue that he is the most important player. He is, as you know, Lionard Pajoy. Throughout the season, D.C. United has ridden the hot hand as far as forwards go. First Maicon Santos, then Hamdi Salihi, then Dwayne De Rosario, Chris Pontius, Long Tan, and now Lionard Pajoy.
And sure, he makes me scream at my television, roll my eyes, and sigh with disgust. But between all of that, he can deliver moments of individual brilliance that cannot be measured. Oh wait, they can: by the six points that he proved in the games against Philadelphia Union and Chivas USA. Since Dwayne De Rosario has been injured, Pajoy has started all four games; in those four games, United has gained 10 points. Now, the cynic might say that those points are in spite of Lionard Pajoy, but he is doing his job: providing game changing plays.
Chest: September has been all about the injury to Dwayne De Rosario. Teams in any sport generally do pretty poorly when their best offensive player is out, and it gets worse when said player is also the team captain on a very much attack-first team. United generally wins games by scoring plenty of goals (4th in scoring), rather than riding a solid defense (tied for 9th in goals against). This team isn't one that comes to mind when it comes to MLS's better grind-it-out sides.
So how the hell did we take 10 of 12 possible points since De Ro's injury? Decisive moments from Chris Pontius have helped, as have Ben Olsen's impact substitutions. However, I'd argue that the biggest factor has been the new-found solidity of our defense, and the biggest step up in that group has come from Dejan Jakovic. United's #5 has been an inconsistent player over the years, but at a crucial moment he has delivered arguably the best month of his career. Jakovic has come up with eye-catching tackles in the box that have prevented goals, but he's also doing a strong job of defending proactively by diagnosing plays and snuffing them out before things get dangerous. It's no coincidence that United only gave up 3 goals in 5 games this month.
Martin: Once the novelty of the possibility of voting for a central defender wears off, we should all come back down to Earth and vote for the only healthy player on this team that will ever be in the conversation for an MVP award. This team would not have won the first two games of our three-game winning streak without Chris Pontius. He scored one goal while creating two more with two very beautiful assists. We were looking for a player to step up in the wake of DeRo's injury, and we got it. Pontius has shown maturity and leadership qualities that we had no idea he possessed. He put this team on his back and delivered the wins against the New England Revolution and Philadelphia Union almost single-handedly.
And afterall, if there's a defensive player that we might consider voting for, it should be Bill Hamid. He's allowed just three goals in five matches this month, while playing a huge role in sealing the victories over the Revolution and Chivas USA with some key stops at the end of each match. If we should have any reason to be confident about our chances in the playoffs against teams like the Chicago Fire and New York Red Bulls, its Hamid.