Heading into the busy May and June stretch of schedule for D.C. United, manager Ben Olsen made it known that he was going to have to call upon everyone to help United navigate through the hectic calendar. The Black-and-Red were already off to one of their best starts in team history, but the gauntlet ahead was going to thoroughly test them, and their depth.
In the 33 days since May 2, have seen United manage 4 wins, 2 draws, and 2 losses, for 14 points. And in that time, plenty of players have contributed to the success. For example, with his start on Wednesday night in the 3-1 win over the Chicago Fire, forward Conor Doyle started for the fourth time in a row.
And the former Derby County man, after nearly two years of not scoring, found the back of the net in the second half, helping United secure a win with the third goal on the night.
"It's about time," Doyle told B&RU after the game. "Obviously, with being out for six months last year, it's a big relief to get that one. And just to get back on the score sheet after almost two years is a great feeling."
Doyle's last goal had come in August of 2013, against the Montreal Impact. In fact, the striker scored twice in two separate games against the Impact that August. But with an injury last year, and a frustrating spell in front of goal this year, Doyle hadn't been able to score a goal since.
Against the Fire, he started out up top, partnering Jairo Arrieta. In the first half, neither was able to get much going forward, in what amounted to a frustrating 45 minutes. But as Fabian Espindola was inserted to start the second half, Doyle dropped back to a midfield position, where he was able to contribute more. And from a deep midfield run in the 75th minute, he got on the end of Espindola's cross to ensure United's victory.
"He's taking advantage of the minutes he's getting, whether it's 5 minutes, 10 minutes to kill off a game, or whether he's starting," Olsen said after the game. "Now that he's getting back to back games, he's finding more of a rhythm. Conor is increasingly getting more comfortable out there, and being more a threat. We know how tough it is to get the first one under your belt, so I'm happy for him that he got his goal tonight."
And with at least 7 games in the next 28 days, Doyle looks likely to continue to get opportunities, whether in spot starts, or off the bench to help his team see out a victory. The confidence and rhythm picked up over the past two weeks will come in handy then.
"You get the confidence and you get the fitness that comes with playing games. To be able to play the last four is awesome," Doyle added. The last three it's been frustrating, because I haven't scored, and tonight I was just happy to get on the score sheet. Going into these two months, we were told everyone was going to be needed to contribute at some point. I was just happy my number got called."
At the other end of the field, Andrew Dykstra had to step in for United in goal, to fill in for the injured Bill Hamid. Hamid has been battling with minor knocks all season, and Olsen decided to give the US keeper a rest ahead of Saturday's game against Toronto FC.
There was no step down from Hamid to Dykstra though, as the former Fire keeper made two critical saves in picking up his first win on the season. In the first half, he stopped a Jeff Larentowicz penalty kick to keep the game scoreless. And in the second half, with United protecting a 2-1 lead, Dysktra came up big to make a save against Quincy Amarikwa.
"The kick save was great. It comes at a good time. They're pushing, and it was a big save," Olsen said after the game. "He was great all night. I think the guys feel very comfortable with him behind them. His communication is good, and saves the pk, and makes the save at 2-1 that puts an end to the game"
Dykstra admitted to having some sort of strategy for Larentowicz's penalty, knowing the tendencies of the Fire defender.
"I know that he's a guy that likes to approach it slow and see where the keeper moves. So you wait to see in the final second, and kind of read it from there."
But the save in the second half was completely reactionary. Harry Shipp found Amarikwa with a dinked ball over United's defense, and Dykstra was able to get himself from one side of the goal to the other to make the save when United needed him the most.
"You get across the goal and you stay big. That's exactly what it is, right place, right time," Dykstra said. "It's just about standing up, keeping good shape, and making the save."
The danger from the save wasn't clear, but his teammates had his back, and helped him out after he had saved them twice. Markus Halsti stabbed away the secondary chance, and United cleared their lines, allowing Doyle to score the insurance goal minutes later.