A week ago against the Portland Timbers, early in the second half, Luciano Acosta got the ball in the attacking half, and made his way towards goal. The playmaker for D.C. United weaved in and around five different defenders for the Timbers, retaining possession at the top of the box in a tied game. Acosta then picked his head up, saw a teammate open in a shooting position in the box, and laid a pass off.
Only, the teammate on the receiving end of the pass wasn’t someone who fans would have expected. It wasn’t Wayne Rooney, or one of Acosta’s midfield partners, such as Paul Arriola, Zoltan Stieber, or Yamil Asad. It wasn’t Darren Mattocks either. Instead, it was right back Oniel Fisher, who laced a shot past Jeff Attinella, for his first professional goal. It was the eventual game winner as United won 4-1, on their way to a nine point week.
“I was just like, what should I do right now?” Fisher told B&RU earlier this week, recounting his reaction to scoring the goal. “I enjoyed that moment.”
Fisher joined the Black-and-Red in February, after a trade sent him cross country from the Seattle Sounders. The 14-times capped Jamaican defender figured to likely to serve primarily as a back up, with Nick DeLeon set to be the first choice right back. But with Taylor Kemp out, and Joseph Mora not yet on the team, Fisher started the first two games of the season at left back, a position he isn’t quite as comfortable with.
Fisher showed some struggles in those two games, and was quickly replaced by Mora, who had just a couple of days training with the team after joining from Saprissa, for the home game at the Maryland SoccerPlex against the Houston Dynamo on March 17th.
“We only had him there out of desperation,” Head Coach Ben Olsen said of playing Fisher at left back early in the season. “He’s not nearly comfortably there, whether defensively or offensively.”
Fisher didn’t play any part in the next three games, and then came on as a substitute in the following three, culminating in a first half introduction after Mora picked up a red card on the road against Real Salt Lake. Since then, Fisher has started every game for United, going 90 minutes in 12 of those 14 games. In all, Fisher has played in 19 games, with 16 starts in 2018. Before that, in three seasons with the Sounders, he had only started a total of 18 games, with 27 appearances.
And though there were still a couple of lapses during the early part of his run of games, Fisher has seemingly found a higher level in recent times, especially in the past week, when United picked up three wins from three home games. In addition to the goal against Portland, Fisher was a large part of the attacks against Orlando City and the New England Revolution. He was also a part of an United back line that conceded just three goals in those three games, a far cry from when they were regularly conceding multiple goals a game earlier in the year.
“Now that I’m playing more minutes, I’m gaining more confidence,” Fisher said. “Getting to be myself again, play how I want to play.”
The improvement in play hasn’t gone unnoticed by his head coach.
“[He’s] growing in confidence, getting forward more, helping out in possession and chance creation in the final third. He’s growing into that role more and more,” Olsen told reporters on Wednesday about Fisher. “Defensively he’s been good as well. He’s taken on real challenges. He’s bailing his teammates out on the weak side. He’s been good.”
The trick for Fisher and United now will be to find a way to keep the momentum going after a great run of results last week. Orlando, Portland with short rest on a cross country trip, and New England, didn’t present the toughest competition for United to earn nine points. But in the next two weeks, they’ll face road trips against both New York clubs, and will host a surging Philadelphia Union team, along with current Supporters’ Shield leaders Atlanta United.
That all starts on Sunday, with a trip to Harrison, New Jersey, to take on the New York Red Bulls. Last month, the Red Bulls came to Audi Field, and took all three points with an early Bradley Wright-Phillips goal. They remain the only team to have taken points away from Audi Field after six games at United’s new Southwest home.
“We know that the last week has been tough for us, and this coming week is going to be tougher,” Fisher said about United’s upcoming schedule. “We have to take care of our bodies, and make sure mentally we are focused, and not get too cocky about what we have done this past week. Every game for us is like a final. We need every moment.”