Would you believe that a player as good as Andy Najar has never made the MLS Playoffs? Chris Pontius is used to spending Thanksgiving home with his family, not in D.C. training. Bill Hamid has become a regular for the U.S. National Team, but he's played in his league's postseason? Perry Kitchen is used to winning national championships, not just watching them.
This is the new core of our team. We don't have a most valuable player anymore. All of these guys are valuable. All of them want to keep playing in November.
In a 2-1 win over the New England Revolution, tonight D.C. United proved that they can win without Dwayne De Rosario. United is more than just one man. And if we are just one man, that man is Ben Olsen, who managed the hell out of this game. Without DeRo, Olsen gave Branko Boskovic the chance to step up, and he did. Then, knowing that Boskovic's one brilliant moment of the match had already expired, Olsen pulled him for a hungry Lewis Neal.
The rest is history. So is the playoff hope of the Revolution.
Not for United though. Tonight's win puts D.C. in fifth place, two points ahead of the Columbus Crew, two points behind the Houston Dynamo for fourth, but with a game in hand. Olsen set the playoffs as the expectation this season. The core of this team will get us there.
We've said many times already that this United team seems different from other recent United teams. That was evident again tonight. Just three minutes after falling behind, United came right back.
The Revolution opened the scoring in the 29th minute as Diego Fagundez set up rookie Kelyn Rowe for a free run on goal. Chris Korb's job was supposed to be to mark Rowe, but he set off in pursuit of Fagundez instead, leaving Rowe open to blast the ball past Hamid. It was a momentary loss in focus, and with so little margin of error left for this team, a momentary loss of focus (have you heard that before on this blog?) could end our season.
Tonight though, it didn't.
Because the good Boskovic showed up tonight at RFK Stadium. He was consistently dangerous on free kicks, but his run up the middle of the field and his intelligence to leave the ball for the clinical Pontius were what made the difference in this match. Pontius read the play correctly and took his chance well, beating Matt Reis just inside the post.
Pontius wasn't done though. In the 63rd minute while gathering the ball deep on the left wing and fighting off defenders, Pontius found an improbably hero in Neal. The veteran used his left foot to one-time the ball into the net.
The final minutes of the match were a bit terrifying, with United unable to hold possession and the goal constantly under durress. Fortunately for us, Hamid was the man standing in front of that goal. Hamid was making saves with his hands, arms, legs, tongue, whatever. That's the kind of effort that puts teams in the playoffs.
This certainly wasn't a perfect match though. It was satisfying, but not inspiring. We were just barely better than a team that has literally no chance of making the playoffs. This match was even almost the entire time. 2-1 was the right result, but if not for Hamid, it could have easily been 2-2.
Still, the playoffs are in sight. Within reach. With our remaining schedule, just beating the teams we're supposed to beat will get us into the playoffs. But it might not get us much farther.