Whatever DC United Assistant Coach Chad Ashton said to the starters on the field before the start of the second half, it sure didn’t work. However, Head Coach Ben Olsen bringing on the team’s leading scorer off the bench in the second half certainly did.
United ‘s first two goals were from their center backs as Brandon McDonald nodded home a perfect Branko Boskovic free kick on the quarter hour and Dejan Jakovic added the second on a scramble in front off a corner to extend the lead moments before half time.
So the players either ignored what Ashton said it or it wasn’t sound advice. Saer Sene and A.J. Soares scored within the first 5-minutes of the second half to quickly bring the game to level terms.
But on comes Maicon Santos in the 57th minute and four minutes later scores the game winner on a sensational combination with Dwayne De Rosario to give United a volatile 3-2 win. Santos scored eight goals in 30 combined games for Toronto and then Dallas last season; he already has seven in just 13 games this year for United.
The win vaults United a point ahead of the New York Red Bulls and into first place in the Eastern Conference. The Red Bulls do have two games in hand however, but this is the latest United have been at the top of the conference table since July 2009.
Despite the win, United looked tired. They looked like a team that has played 15 games in a little over three months, including six in May that started with a Pacific to Eastern to Central Time Zone road trip. But the team swept the last three games, all at home, for their first three game winning streak since June 2008.
“That last 10 minutes of the game, I looked down and didn’t know if I had legs,” said McDonald “My lungs were exhausted. It’s good to go on this break – it’s well needed.”
“I think you can hear it in my voice, I am absolutely tired a lot of games in a short period of time but we withstood the demand that was put on us,” added De Rosario. “We can’t get complacent we haven’t done anything yet.”
Tired or not, United is now 6-2-1 at home this year but was less than stellar and it showed in their possession quality and decision making.
“It’s strange because I feel unfulfilled. I think our team feels unfulfilled, but it’s nice to feel unfulfilled and have three points in the back,” said Olsen. “I prefer to look at this as a three-game homestretch that we’ve had, and how we’ve performed over that span, and that’s been very good.”
United is the only team in MLS to have five players with at least three goals and have scored within the first 15-minutes five times this season, seven times within the first 20-minutes. But with the exception of the last 10-minutes of the match, United were sloppy on the ball and played their way into predicaments on the field that were totally unnecessary.
“We’ve got to find a way to be better with the ball, and keep the ball. Not defend that much…It wasn’t sharp; passing, simple possessions — we complicated the game. There’s a lot of stuff that wasn’t great,” Olsen said. “You’re at home, you want to push the game a little bit and get the early lead and make them chase a little bit. We get the early one and then we get the one right before the half, and usually that breaks team’s backs. Give them a lot of credit for coming out and getting two back.”
But three points is three points and first place is first place for a team that hasn’t given their fans much to cheer about for over four years.
“Mentality, determination, hard work and depth this team has shown it numerous times this year,” said De Rosario. “But if we could play like that, which for me it wasn’t our best performance, and still beat a decent team like New England it shows a lot on our part.”
Other than a U.S. Open Cup match at the Richmond Kickers on Tuesday, United will not restart league play again until June 16 when they travel to Philadelphia. Though unlikely to have played anyway, De Rosario and Jakovic both leave tomorrow to join the Canadian National Team for two upcoming matches.
“I’m not sure if it was complacency at times or just sheer ‘this is the end of a long stretch of us doing a lot of traveling and a lot of games.’ It does catch up to you, so I hope the break now comes at a good time and we can get our legs back and get our sharpness back,” said Olsen.
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