Six games in, and D.C. United has 2 wins, 2 draws and 2 losses - just not in that order. After opening the season with a last-second loss to the heretofore unblemished Sporks and contributing the Galaxy's first win of the season, United are unbeaten in their last four, taking wins off of FC Dallas and the Revolution while drawing with the FCs Sounders and Whitecaps.
Welcome to the Sixths, where we look over the season, one big bite at a time.
Results: L-L-T-W-T-W (2-2-2, 8 pts); 7 GF, 6 GA (+1 diff.)
Standings: United are squarely in the Eastern Conference playoff positions one sixth into the season, sitting on 8 points, good for third place in the East. The Black-and-Red are seven points behind unbeaten and untied KC, and just two points behind second place New York.
Season Leaders: Maicon Santos is leading the charge with 3 goals and an assist, while Nick DeLeon has worked his way into a vital role on the team, netting 2 goals and dishing 3 assists. Danny Cruz and Chris Pontius have a goal apiece, while Cruz has an assist to go along with it. Dwayne De Rosario hasn't found the back of the net just yet, but he does have two assists to his credit. DeRo also leads the team in minutes.
MVP of the Sixth: To my mind, there are three candidates for the award: Rookie sensation NDL and second-year 'keeper Joe Willis are two of them. Hell, Willis was even my player of the month for March. But they say absence makes the heart grow fonder, and Emiliano Dudar's absence against the Revs on Saturday certainly made me miss him. He makes our defense sturdier and calmer, while also giving us better poise in possession. Watching the defense look confused and harried without him has convinced me that he's been our MVP through his three-and-a-half games in black-and-red.
After the jump, we'll look at the defining moment, most-used lineup, and see what we learned from the First Sixth.
Defining Moment: Remember back when Maicon Santos needed to sit down? He hadn't scored, was trying too hard to score spectacular goals, and was generally less than effective as a target forward. That all changed with a blast against Dallas, keying United to a 4-1 win and setting Santos onto a hot streak in which he would score 3 goals in as many games.
The spot with the most turnover during the First Sixth was center back, by a wide margin. Brandon McDonald played five of the six games - serving a suspension for the other one - but Dejan Jakovic and Emiliano Dudar split time equally, each playing just about 3-1/2 games. Dudar gets the nod here because he edges Jakovic on minutes due to the Canadian international's injury in New England and because Dudar is pretty clearly Ben Olsen's first choice at this point. It'll be interesting to see what happens at the wide midfield positions as Andy Najar and Chris Pontius work their way back into the lineup, not to mention the competition at the forward and attacking midfield slots.
Positives from the Sixth
Defensive Improvement - This is really a back-to-front observation. Bill Hamid and Joe Willis have been phenomenal in goal. Emiliano Dudar's insertion into the lineup has made the back line nigh impregnable. Kitchen is growing into his role in defensive midfield, and DeRo is putting in the hard work to close down opposing deep-lying midfielders. The forwards are getting in on the act, too, forcing opposing defenders into quicker passes than they'd like. The result is two shutouts and a 1.0 GAA.
Maicon F***ing Santos - You know that connection he was assumed to have with DeRo after playing with the defending MVP previously in Toronto? Yeah, it's a thing: each of Santos' three goals were fed directly by De Rosario, and - oh yeah - Santos leads the team in scoring and is helping the offense function with his improving hold-up play.
Negatives from the Sixth
Designated Player Production - So far, our three highest-paid players have a grand total of zero goals and two assists, both of those courtesy of De Rosario. One of them can't even reasonably be called first choice at this point, as Bronko Boskovic is in precisely nobody's projected lineup at this point. Hamdi Salihi seems perpetually on the verge of breaking through, and hopefully he'll go on a major tear before I write the next installment of this series.
Overall Impression: Things are gelling on both sides of the ball, and the team is getting results, even when they play less than sizzlingly. The guys have actually managed a positive goal differential through six games, something they failed to muster last year until the second half of the season.
Looking Ahead: How's this for symmetry? The Second Sixth of United's 2012 campaign comprises a three-game homestand followed by a three-game road trip. Five of the six games are against Eastern Conference foes, so this is going to be an important stretch come playoff time.