If it wasn't for paperwork, the D.C. United U-23 team would be undefeated this season.
Consider that since a 1-1 draw in the first week of the season was ultimately ruled a forfeit because of an incorrectly registered player, the Black and Red have gone on a run where they have won four of five road games, drawing the other. The teams have not been complete slouches either; they defeated Mid Atlantic Division leaders Reading United AC and tied for second place Long Island Rough Riders.
Last week may have been the wildest one yet; D.C. found themselves up 3-1 before the game's 40th minute, with two goals from Jake Rozhansky leading the charge. After the half, the Bohs found their footing and scored goals in the 54th and 75th minute to level things; a quick response from Jeremy Ebobisse in the 77th minute was enough to hold on for a wild 4-3 win. With the forfeited points, D.C. find themselves in 6th with 10, but only four points behind Reading, whom they host Friday at Evergreen Sports Complex in Leesburg.
Rozhansky, tied for the team lead in goals and leading the team in shots, downplayed his performance Saturday, saying, "...all I tried to do was hit it across goal and the ball actually deflected off one of the defenders and went in. It was more of an own goal but if the dubious goals panel gives it to me I will definitely claim it."
The team has slowly incorporated more of its international players, such as Guatemala youth national player (and former New York Cosmo) Henry Lopez and some of the graduates from D.C.'s Academy program, but Rozhansky, about to start his sophomore year at Virginia and came up through the Bethesda Olney Academy, is quick to credit the ensemble: "I think the success has included everyone. Not all of us came up through the DC academy and most of us come from different colleges and backgrounds but I think pretty quickly the squad became a tight knit group. I think that's one of the main reasons why the beginning of our season has been so successful."
The team's coach, Richie Burke, feels the team's ceiling has yet to be realized. "We've gelled pretty well so far, but still need to incorporate more into our overall level of play. I'd say we're operating at 75% and managing to get results from some special sequences of play - but we are far from where we can look at it and say we're the finished product. No one would've predicted how well the central defensive pairing of (Carter) Manley and (Taylor) Washington have played. That was good fortune, especially since both players were expected to play in fullback roles where they play in college." (Manley plays at Duke, Washington at George Mason).
Burke went on to say that while adding Lopez, Ebobisse and Jacori Hayes to the team have helped, they have not been the primary reason for the success: "Adding the three players you mention has been integral to our recent success. Though, it would be unfair to others like Christian Dietrich, (Nigel) Robinson, (Melvin) Snoh and (David) Witkoff to say that only the others have added to our quality. Everyone who has been cleared to join our squad of late has made their own degree of improvement and training in particular is extremely competitive. Having everyone challenge for places in the squad is what makes the program better."
Rozhansky echoed the progress and Burke's leadership of the team, saying "One of the things Coach Burke has done for the team is that he holds everybody accountable and to a very high standard. He is a very honest and blunt coach and will definitely tell you if you are not doing your job. That holds all the players accountable to win their individual battles and to play to the best of their ability every game and practice. I think for me and the rest of the team Coach Burke has instilled confidence in us. He strongly believes in all the players in the squad. And lastly although we want to win, it is not the most important thing to coach Burke. The most important thing is developing players and giving them chances with the first team. At the PDL level I think that is the most important area of focus."
While the team looks forward to the home stand, Burke does not intend to have them looking past their opponents: "It is nice to be local for a while and hopefully we will get a large support group to come out and get behind the players. For our part, we're not focusing on the league standings and have treated the program as a developmental opportunity for the players and for the club. There are some very good programs in our PDL division, but we are taking the summer league play one match at a time and trying to make minor improvements to our level of play in every performance. This weekend will be no different."
The U-23 team plays Friday at Evergreen at 7:30pm against Reading and comes back to Evergreen Sunday at 3pm against the Jersey Express.