We've been seeing more of this lately, including once (and nearly twice) against TFC on Saturday.
When you're battling for the top couple spots in your conference and a winless, pointless side comes knocking at your door, you hold them to the fire from the opening whistle. That's just what D.C. United did to Toronto FC, jumping out to a first minute lead and doubling the advantage before the break before finishing the game 3-1. No clean sheet, but an otherwise workmanlike performance to put the Capital Club second and overtake Sporting Kansas City in the standings for the first time this year.
What They're Saying About It
Bromley: It sounds like a cliché at this point, but its still true: this is a game that D.C. United would have underperformed in during the past two seasons. Through injuries prior to and during the game, they have been missing the wingers and forwards that brought them back after the slow start to the season. The back line has been missing the talisman that calmed them after that same slow start. Ben Olsen mentioned after the game that the team has been dealing with tired legs, but were able to gut through this performance. This is the type of game that teams who are challenging for the top of their conference win, and in a similar fashion.
Salazar: Woolard and his teammates didn't get the shutout, but they stifled Toronto at nearly every turn on Saturday. TFC managed just four shots on goal, and only one came in a first half completely dominated by Ben Olsen's side. Johnson himself was particularly quiet. Just one of the forward's six shots found its way on frame, and Hamid was there to stop the 61st minute effort.
Goff: Dwayne De Rosario's immense value lies in the ability to create and punctuate scoring opportunities. For eight matches this season, the 2011 points leader was largely a provider, but in the course of three weeks, the reigning MVP has rediscovered his destructive finishing form. With two first-half goals against his hometown club Saturday night, De Rosario upped his total to five in six matches as D.C. United defeated winless Toronto FC, 3-1.
Floyd: United coach Ben Olsen rolled the dice with his lineup, starting just six players at the same positions they played in a 2-0 win over Colorado on Wednesday. His tactics were even more unusual once the match got under way, as D.C. relied on a heavy interchange of positions, turning the squad's typical 4-4-2 formation into an alignment more akin to the 4-3-3 that Toronto plays.
Stouffer: With a decisive 3-1 victory in perfect late spring conditions before 14,287 at RFK Stadium, United (7-4-3) picked up its fifth win in seven games and its second two-game winning streak of the season - after it took nearly three years to record its first. It also extended its winning streak at home to four games and its unbeaten run overall to seven to keep pace with New York and overtook Sporting Kansas City to claim second place in the Eastern Conference.
Webb: For the third consecutive match, Ben Olsen was forced to burn a substitute due to another injury. Danny Cruz pulled his hamstring on a long sprint in the 21st minute and was replaced by Dejan Jakovic.
What I'm Saying About It
- Welcome back, Andy Najar! After losing his starting spot - largely through no fault of his own - Najar had already firmly grabbed it back, even before Cruz's hamstring failed like so many TFC sitters. He did it partly through the same means Chris Pontius used to get back on the field when his wide midfield slot was won by a newcomer: positional flexibility. Najar started Saturday at right fullback, terrorizing the Toronto left with Danny Cruz before the latter's injury, and moved up to midfield so that he could continue to threaten the Reds with new flank-mate Chris Korb. Najar's individual skill was on display throughout, and generally used to good effect: he somehow dribbled a soccer ball behind-the-back to beat a man in midfield and keep possession, and his flair in the opposing box set up United's third goal. Great to have the real Andy back.
- About those hamstrings... It's been suggested in the comments here that the training staff is to blame for many of the injuries plaguing the boys in black this year. I'm not totally convinced, but I become a little bit more amenable to the argument with each pulled hamstring that further afflicts our disproportionately afflicted roster. Danny Cruz is the latest victim, adding his name to a list that already includes Emiliano Dudar, Robbie Russell, Nick DeLeon and (we now know) Lewis Neal. Somebody with more knowledge of kinesiology should tell me whether there's a stretch or activity the team should start (or stop) doing to alleviate the hamstring issue.
- Ben Olsen continues to grow as a coach and tactician. Last season, United were undone on more than one occasion by opponents' ability to make adjustments during the game to address D.C.'s threats and expose our weaknesses. Benny, young coach in his first full year that he was, frequently was too slow to counter the adjustment or made the wrong call. That's not happening this year. When something isn't working on the field, you see Olsen direct the players to shift tactics, whatever minute is listed on the scoreboard. And more often than not, those changes are bearing fruit for D.C. United, whether in the form of impact substitutions, increased possession after a formation shuffle or something else. It's great to see this kind of improvement from such a young coach.