D.C. United came into last Sunday’s game against Orlando City with a goal in mind. There were three games at home in the space of eight days, and for United, who began the stretch at the bottom of the Eastern Conference, nine points was the target. On Sunday night, in front of a sell-out crowd of 20,198, United capped off the perfect week, taking down the New England Revolution 2-0, inching closer to an elusive playoff spot.
Over the past week, there was the dramatics against the Lions, the second half dominance against the Portland Timbers, and surviving the physical barrage of the Revs. United picked up a third of their 27 points in just three games, and put the rest of the conference on alert that they mean business.
“It was a great week,” Head Coach Ben Olsen said with a smile in his post game press conference.
On Sunday, Olsen went with the same 11 players as starters that got the job done in Wednesday’s 4-1 win over the Timbers. That group rewarded their manager with a 7th win on the season, as the team kept just their second clean sheet of the season. Luciano Acosta opened the scoring early in the first half, and Zoltan Stieber, on a substitute in the second half, sealed the deal with his fifth goal of the campaign in the 89th minute.
“Confidence is high,” team captain Wayne Rooney said in the locker room after the game. “We had a target to start the week, and thankfully we got nine points.”
Rooney provided several of the big highlights over the past week, including his last ditch tackle and assist deep in stoppage time against Orlando, and then scoring twice against Portland. On Sunday, he didn’t quite have the same impact, but one of the players who has flourished with Rooney in the side, once again shone.
Acosta’s goal in the 13th minute - his fourth in the past eight days - was another feather in the cap for United’s number 10. Playing alongside Rooney, Acosta has hit another gear, and is playing the best he has ever played for the Black-and-Red.
“I’m enjoying [the soccer] alot,” Acosta said through a translator after the game about his recent form. Winning is something that we wanted to consistently been doing for a while, and we’re feeling good.”
It’s the type of Acosta that United will need for the rest of the season, as they still have to make up six points against either the Montreal Impact or the Philadelphia Union to sneak into the playoffs in 2018.
“He’s playing really mature. It’s the discipline defensively, it’s the decision making of when to pull out the tricks, and when to connect the pass,” Olsen said of his playmaker after the game. “It’s the composure in front of goal, which is new to his game.”
And in taking down the Revs, United have seemingly quickly made Audi Field into a difficult place for opponents to play. The Black-and-Red have won five of the six games at the stadium at Buzzard Point, with only the New York Red Bulls taking away points, in a 1-0 result last month.
But United have settled in quickly, and a raucous crowd in the stands has helped the team get results on the field.
“We feel like we are going to win every game,” Steven Birnbaum told B&RU in the locker room after the game. “The crowd has got our back, they are roaring.”
Despite all the good vibes from the past week though, United still face an uphill battle to bridge the six point gap. The next four games are away to the Red Bulls, hosting the Union, welcoming Atlanta United, and then a trip to take on New York City FC.
Keeping emotions in check after what has been a highly successful week will be key for United to make the playoffs this year.
“The standings are the standings. That’s a good constant reminder,” Olsen said, of what he hopes can keep his team grounded after the nine point week. “We can tell each other how great we are right now, but we got a long way to go.”
“We put together three good performances” said Bill Hamid, who got his first shutout in his second stint with the club. “But I don’t want us to lose our heads right now. Hopefully we can keep it going.”