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In probably the ugliest, least convincing victory ever over a last place team, D.C. United is on the brink of clinching a playoff spot, thanks to Bill Hamid and Hamdi Salihi.
Let's discuss this match in two parts.
Would you like the good news first, or the bad news?
Good news? Okay. Then let's call this a gritty win. A win on the road. A win that was secured by a great defensive effort from Bill Hamid, Dejan Jakovic, and Brandon McDonald. A win that extended D.C. United's winning streak to five games.
Most importantly of all though, it was a win that put United in second place in the MLS Eastern Conference. It was the win that put us in the playoffs for good.
When we look back at this season, no one will remember how this win was won. We'll remember that United returned to the playoffs for the first time in five seasons, but we won't necessarily remember that it took some really ugly games to get there. We wanted four points from this stretch of two road games, and that's exactly what we got.
Those four points came with a lot of luck though. Of the four points earned, United deserved maybe one? First we had a draw against the Portland Timbers in which the home team generated far more chances and in which United only scored because David Horst couldn't keep his arms down while trying to block a shot and because the referee made a call that not every referee would have made.
Today's win over Toronto FC was just as lucky. Save for the first 10 minutes of the game, the last five minutes of the first half, TFC had better chances on goal than United. Of course that changed though when Branko Boskovic, Hamdi Salihi, and Maicon Santos came on the field. As we know it would. But even the goal for United was lucky. It came on a driven shot from Santos on a counterattack that Milos Kocic should have saved fairly easily. Except he didn't, and Salihi was there to clean up the rebound. It may have been lucky, but it was the only goal in the 1-0 win for D.C.
This team should have been able to score more than one goal against TFC, and it should have been able to score before the 86th minute. Poor outings from Lionard Pajoy, Chris Pontius, and Nick DeLeon meant that the two teams looked mostly even through 75 minutes of action. A team trying to solidify its playoff standings shouldn't look mostly even to the worst place team in the league.
That's where the bad news comes in. If the good news is that United will make the playoffs, the bad news is that they won't last there very long unless the team improves significantly.
Changing the starting lineup would help, and I think this match proved that. In their limited time on the field, Salihi and Santos looked far more likely to score than Pajoy and Pontius. Similarly, Boskovic did far more with the space in central midfield than Marcelo Saragosa. I understand the thinking that Santos and Salihi are better as subs, and that Boskovic isn't a 90-minute player, but the starting lineup used today was so obviously flawed when we saw it in Portland. It really wasn't a surprise to see such a boring 0-0 contest prior to the changes being made.
But that leads us back to more good news. Although he never stops making decisions that we disagree with, Ben Olsen also never fails to make up for it. At this point in the season, I'll gladly take 75 boring minutes of scoreless soccer only to see Olsen positively change the game with his substitutions. Its happened before, it happened today, and hopefully it will happen again.