For almost a year and a half, D.C. United went without scoring multiple goals in a road game during MLS regular season play. After a 2-1 win over the Vancouver Whitecaps in April 2015, United began a stretch of 27 games on the road in which they failed to score more than one goal. Heading into the season’s final game though, a trip south to take on Orlando City SC, United are decidedly on the opposite end of the spectrum. The Black-and-Red have scored multiple goals in eight straight games, a run that includes four road games.
United’s newfound confidence going forward was best summed up by a play that didn’t produce a goal. In Sunday’s game against New York City FC, goalkeeper Bill Hamid spotted a runner in space on the right wing and rewarded the movement with a long pass. That runner was center back Bobby Boswell, who moved upfield before swinging a cross in for his defensive partner Steve Birnbaum, who volleyed the ball wide. On his way back to his normal post, Birnbaum couldn’t help but flash a grin at United’s bench.
“We were feeling it as a group,” Boswell told reporters on Tuesday when reminiscing about the play. “When you get into that rhythm of everything seems to be going your way, we had to take advantage of it.”
United were already up 2-0 at that point against NYCFC, and eventually ran out 3-1 winners. The victory - a fourth straight for the Black-and-Red - clinched a playoff spot, and has given United a real chance to host their knockout round game (to be played Wednesday or Thursday next week).
“The job’s not done. We have to go there and get a result. And then we have a very quick turnaround, whether it’s Wednesday or Thursday, for the playoff game,” head coach Ben Olsen said on Tuesday.
“It’s a little bit of a puzzle, a little tricky about how we go about it. That’s what we’re evaluating today and tomorrow,” Olsen said, knowing his team will have to play twice in a short span. “Anyway you slice it, we need to get some type of result there to make sure we’re back at RFK.”
United could still benefit from a slip up by the Montreal Impact, who will play their final game on the road against the New England Revolution. United need only to match the Impact’s result to ensure that play-in game, against either the Impact or the Philadelphia Union, will be hosted at RFK Stadium.
And the belief around the team now is that they are more of capable of going on the road and beating an Orlando team that they put to the sword a month ago in a 4-1 win that started the current four game winning streak. Add in United’s recent ability to score goals in any venue, and a win against an already eliminated Orlando side seems more than plausible.
“For me it’s just about form. Our form. At home we are a different beast,” said Boswell. “So it would be good to have home field advantage. I don’t think anyone wants to come here and play.”
United’s streak of 27 games on the road without multiple goals ended at the beginning of September, in a 3-2 loss to NYCFC. Draws on the road against the New York Red Bulls and Chicago Fire featured late goals, but the 2-1 win on October 1st at Toronto FC showed off United’s ability to score multiple goals in a road game and then manage a lead.
Olsen chalked up the team’s recent run of scoring in away games to more clinical finishing, and also more understanding among the team in how they want to attack, and how they can score goals and take advantage of weaknesses in other teams.
“I think some of it is finishing, we’ve been efficient with our chances. But the attacks have been increasing as we’ve gone along in the season,” said Olsen. “We’re getting into the attacking third more, guys are more familiar with each other.”
And now, instead of limping into the playoffs as they have done the past two years, the Black-and-Red could enter the playoffs on a five-game winning streak, provided they take care of business in Florida.
“I think we have a different swagger and a different stride about us,” added Olsen. “More of an upward trend. That’s exciting, because the past has shown that’s what you need to hold trophies at the end of the year.”