Only half way through the MLS season, D.C. United had themselves an important game on Sunday at RFK Stadium against the New England Revolution. With consecutive MLS games behind them, and four straight road MLS games ahead of them, all three points were a must for the team atop the Eastern Conference standings.
United eventually delivered just that, overcoming Charlies Davies' early strike with a Chris Rolfe brace in the second half, as the Black-and-Red moved atop the Supporters' Shield standings with 2-1 win over the Revs.
In a game that followed an eerily similar pattern to previous games at RFK for United this year, the early goal conceded to Davies was ultimately overturned in the second half. The hero this time was Rolfe, who volleyed home a cross from Fabian Espindola, before sealing all three points from the penalty spot.
"We haven't been playing the best soccer lately, so at the beginning of this game, when we started dumping balls we got a little frustrated," Rolfe told B&RU after the game. "I think you should give us a lot of credit for being tough and strong mentally and figuring out the game and coming out with the victory."
The team's theme of being able to respond from early adversity showed up again on Sunday, as United won for their fifth time this season in come from behind fashion. Four of those games were at home, and D.C. has allowed all the goals in falling behind within the first 30 minutes of the game.
It's a trend that has it's positives and negatives.
"It's becoming a recurring theme for us, giving up first goals. The good thing is that we've shown that we can come back," Davy Arnaud said after the game. "But I feel like we've said the same thing now two or three times. We don't want to be playing from behind too often. It's not easy to do. But the response in the second half was great, and we get the important win."
The game had a bit more importance to United than your average run of the mill June MLS game. The next time that United will take the field at RFK will be July 26th against the Philadelphia Union. In the meantime, United will play on the road at least five times, with a sixth road game possible if they defeat the Union in next week's US Open Cup Game.
Thus, getting points before trips to Chicago, Toronto, Seattle, and Dallas for league games was of the utmost importance for United. With the three points against New England, United sit atop of the Eastern Conference, with a 7 point gap between them and the Revs.
"Very important," Rolfe said of Sunday's win. "A lot of emphasis on that. We don't play [at home] again until the end of July. So a very important game for us to get a win, and I think it's going to be a great lead in to this busy week for us."
In the previous two MLS games, United had looked less than convincing in losses to Toronto FC, and Orlando City, the former coming at home, ending a 20 game unbeaten streak in all competitions. Things looked to continue that way as Davies poked home a cross from Lee Nguyen after 10 minutes, only for United to win the game through Rolfe's fifth and sixth goals of the year.
"I don't think we can say enough how important this game was. I know we're only half way through the year, but this is one of those games where we needed to win. Especially considering the last two games," Arnaud added. "We don't like to lose two games in a row. Even if we got a tie, we would have been disappointed with five games on the road now. But this gets us back on track and gives us confidence going into a tough stretch."
That confidence is much needed going forward. A vastly different side beat the Pittsburgh Riverhounds on Wednesday in the US Open Cup. With four games in the next two weeks, United manager Ben Olsen will need everyone available for United to pick up points on the road.
On Sunday though, he was simply grateful for the win at RFK.
"It was a key game for us tonight because of the road ahead. We needed to get these points."