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United begins offseason housecleaning – Inside and Out

The bloodletting has begun. Not even a week after D.C. United closed what arguably will be the worst single-season by an MLS team in it’s 17-year history, the Black-and-Red have made moves on and off the field that have sent shockwaves through the United community.

The on-field moves made by United yesterday included the declining of team options on Dwayne De Rosario, Lionard Pajoy, Carlos Ruiz and Marcelo Saragosa. None of these moves comes as a surprise with the exception of De Rosario, team captain for most of his time on the field this season. While DeRo came up way short in terms of production on the field, it was a bit of a surprise that the team didn’t at least talk through the option of re-signing DeRo at a much lower rate than his reported $600,000 salary from this past season. Not coincidentally, all four of the players let go yesterday were all over 30 years of age. John Thorrington and Lewis Neal are the only players now on United’s books that are over 30 years old and both will most likely be retained in the offseason.

As for the others, it was a no-brainer as Pajoy, Ruiz and Saragosa were shells of their former selves. Some would argue differently for Pajoy’s case as he was clearly the fans and media’s #1 whipping boy for the failures of the 2013 edition of United. Pajoy was unconvincing pretty much during his entire run with United, but for some reason head coach Ben Olsen loved his workrate. It’s funny, I remember a conversation during an early season match for United that was televised on ESPN when play-by-play man Adrian Healey was mentioning a conversation he had with Olsen in regards to Pajoy when he said “Olsen really likes his high workrate”. Immediately color commentator Taylor Twellman shot back “well I prefer my forwards to score goals.”  That pretty much sums up everyones opinion on Pajoy and it really seemed a mystery why Olsen decided to hitch his wagon to him.

Ruiz was a shot in the dark that simply didn’t pan out. There were expectations that Ruiz’ experience would help United’s admittedly young striking corp (aside from Pajoy) but it never materialized and he became an afterthought for Olsen during the summer. Ruiz’ only contribution was a goal against Chivas de Guadalajara in an exhibition match midseason. After that Ruiz was a persona non grata once the on-loan addition of Conor Doyle came to be.

Imagine how Ruiz’ and United’s fortunes may have changed had Ruiz finished that sitter late against Real Salt Lake in the 2nd match of the season. Who knows? Maybe if Ruiz buries that chance, both he and United don’t begin a season-long funk in front of goal. Now of course it’s ridiculous to heap the blame of an entire season’s worth of ineptitude on the feet of Ruiz and a shot he buries 9 out of 10 times, but it’s not too much of a stretch to imagine that a burst of confidence from that finish might have spurred United to a better outlook on the season rather than what became the customary “here we go again” scenario that unfolded too many times to count during the season when chances came begging that weren’t put away.

As for Saragosa, he was a solid peice of the late-season puzzle for United last year in the wake of the DeRo injury that put him out of the last 9 league matches (of which United went 7-0-2 to end the season). Saragosa however has always been a limited player aside from locking down the middle of the park and his injuries this season and subsequent unavailability made this an easy decision for the front office staff.

Now, speaking of the front office..

On Tuesday the team also announced that Doug Hicks (Cheif Marketing Officer), Aprile Pritchet (Community Relations – also in charge of United for DC charity) and Sarah Lerner (Communications Manager) were all let go. This news sent shockwaves through the media and Twitter was ablaze for about 5 hours after the late-afternoon announcement.

Hicks had been with the club for 13 seasons and was everpresent for any and all major announcements and was a true pro in his role as Communications Director for most of his time with United. On a personal level, I’ve dealt with Doug for over 10 years and he has been more than meets the eye on almost every occasion. Without knowing the inner workings of United, it seems on the face of things a terrible move by the ownership group. On the heels of major front office moves last season, which included the letting go of Communications Manager Kyle Sheldon, it makes you wonder what the Hell is going on over at United.

On the one hand, I understand if new onwnership comes in and wants to input their own personnel, that’s their prerogative as owners and truth be told, the front office has not been up to snuff from previous seasons. Season ticket sales are down and United just came off their worst attendance average in club history in just over 13,000 per game. Heads are gonna roll in situations like this but it doesn’t mean that I can’t disagree with them from the outside looking in. That’s my prerogative.

As for Aprile Pritchet and Sarah Lerner, not unlike my experiences with Doug, they have been very open and receptive to any of my minimal needs. It just doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense why good people are losing their jobs. Sarah was only with the team for two years but Apriel had been there a very long time as well. I wish all three of them good fortune in the future and hope to cross paths with them again one day.

In the end, United in two years have basically jettisoned every person I deal with from a media standpoint and it just doesn’t seem right to me. However, it’s not my decision and I will just have to buck up like every other media member who is as saddened as I am to see these good people let go.

One can only hope that their replacements are equally as accessible and professional as Doug, Aprile and Sarah were.

Getting back to the on the field product, it seems pretty clear that Olsen and his staff are cutting what they see as dead weight. This doesn’t mean that the contributions from the four aforementioned players won’t be forgotten anytime soon. DeRo after all did win an MLS MVP trophy and almost single-handidly carried United to a playoff berth in 2011. I think in many ways, everyone with a vested interest in United was hoping to see something similar from him this season after the team made a number of offseason moves that saw quite a few goals leave the team. DeRo obviously wasn’t up to the task and paying him a Designated Player salary just wasn’t sound business. Additionally, I think DeRo’s time had come. From the two-game suspension at the beginning of the season to the pouting about not starting matches when clearly his form was way off, he just wasn’t giving this team what it needed most, veteran leadership.

DeRo can still play in this league, just not for a team like United who is in major flux. DeRo would be a good addition to a veteran team next season, provided he’s okay with a reduced workload that also comes with a slight reduction in salary. Unfortunately, that is the climate for veteran players in MLS these days not named Thierry Henry, Tim Cahill or Robbie Keane.

The much maligned Lionard Pajoy actually did manage to carve out a few memorable moments in his brief time with United. He scored the lone goal in a 1-0 away win over Philadelphia during that streak late last season that kept United in the hunt for a top playoff seed. He also scored the game-tying goal in Chicago on the last day of the season that clinched 2nd place for United in the East. Had that goal not been scored, United would have been in the play-in game against Houston. I think we all know what would have happened had that panned out. And last but not least, he helped set up the series-winning goal against Red Bull last November that got United to the Eastern Conference final.

Obviously Saragosa and Ruiz’ contributions had much less impact than what DeRo and Pajoy had done during their time with United but that doesn’t mean we don’t appreciate the effort they put forth for United. These are tough decisions for teams but at the end of the day, they were the right moves to make going forward.

United still has a trip to Indonesia on the books in December and Technical Director Dave Kasper had said recently that the club was planning on taking a 22-man squad on the trip. Well, the releasing of these four players makes that decision that much easier.

All in all, I still think this team has a lot more moves up their sleeve. Let’s hope they make the right ones this time as clearly last season they did not on many fronts..

United vs New England: United’s quick start fades to 2-1 loss to Revolution

Getting out to a lead has been one of many puzzling issues for D.C. United this season. United took the lead in the 8th minute against the visiting New England Revolution but faded as the match wore on and the Revs took home a come-from-behind 2-1 win tonight at RFK Stadium.

Luis Silva’s second goal in as many games as a United player gave the home side a shock lead.  In a definite sign of United’s offensive futility this season, Silva’s goal ties him with Dwayne De Rosario and Lionard Pajoy as United’s leading scorers this season. United continued to put the visitors under pressure and nearly doubled their lead on a few chances inside the first twenty minutes. The Revolution however settled into the match after that and their ball control seemed to unlock United and forced them to put numbers behind the ball.

As the second half wore on the Revolution’s continued dominance of ball possession led to the game-tying goal in the 54th minute when Chris Tierney’s cross eluded multiple United defenders deep in the six-yard box and Dimitry Imbongo ghosted in ahead of United defender Taylor Kemp to poke the ball into the goal.

Just nine minutes later the Revs would get the game-winner thanks to a great individual effort and quick thinking. Saer Sene received the ball on the right side of the penalty area and deeked inside to unleash a left-footed curling shot past goalkeeper Joe Willis only to have the crossbar and the left goal post deny the bid. However, the only player who reacted to the missed shot was Diego Fagundez who easily slipped by James Riley to head the bouncing ball into the net.

United should have leveled the match late when Dwayne De Rosario slipped a pass to Lionard Pajoy but his shot was quickly smothered by Revs goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth and United were out of answers once again.

United will now welcome the Montreal Impact to RFK Stadium next Saturday evening at 7pm.

United Notes

  • Perry Kitchen missed his first game since late in the 2011 season. Kitchen was injured in practice on Saturday, snapping a 51-game streak
  • Chris Pontius, Casey Townsend and Carlos Ruiz were all left off the 18-man roster
  • Conor Doyle and Jared Jeffrey made their United debuts with starts tonight
  • Silver Spring, Maryland native Kevin Alston made his first appearance for the Revs since March 30th when he was diagnosed with Leukemia

U.S. Open Cup: United roll to semi-finals with 3-1 win over New England

D.C. United captain Dwayne De Rosario hasn’t had the best of seasons so far in 2013, at least in Major League Soccer. Get him in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup tournament and we’re talking something completely different.

De Rosario scored the game-winning goal in United’s 3-1 win this evening over the visiting New England Revolution in the quarterfinal round of the U.S. Open Cup at the SoccerPlex in Germantown, Maryland. De Rosario (four goals in his past two Open Cup appearances) and Chris Pontius (goal and assist tonight), teamed on the front line for the first time this season, both were instrumental in leading the suddenly resurgent Black-and-Red to an impressive victory over one of MLS’ better squads in the past six weeks.

United, coming off their first league win this past weekend over San Jose, carried that confidence into the first half of play and dominated their rivals to the Northeast by putting 5 shots on goalkeeper Matt Reis to New England’s one on United keeper Joe Willis. Chris Pontius breached the 0-0 deadlock in the 41st minute with a well-taken shot off a failed Revolution clearance just minutes after scuffing a breakaway attempt on Reis.

The Revolution came out in the second half with a bit more purpose and leveled the match in the 52nd minute with a little help from Joe Willis. Juan Toja’s free-kick from 25 yards was tipped off the crossbar by Willis and the rebound hit off the back of Willis and rolled helplessly into the net. Toja got credit for the goal but by strict soccer laws, it should have been an own-goal against Willis.

United was rocked momentarily by the equalizer but Pontius and DeRo paired up for the game-winner in the 69th minute. Pontius whipped in a corner kick to the back post and De Rosario leaped high above a Revolution defender and sent his header looping over Reis and off the underside of the crossbar into the far side of the goal.

Revolution substitute Juan Agudelo nearly evened the match in the 85th minute when his run across the top of the penalty area and resulting left-footed drive pinged off the inside of the far post before United’s scrambling defense cleared the ball to safety. With the Revolution pushing players forward, United substitute Lionard Pajoy got behind the Revolution defense deep along the right sideline and was heading square towards the goal when Revolution defender Goncalves dragged him down. Pajoy took the resulting penalty kick and shot right down the middle as Reis seemingly dove out of the way of the shot.

With the win, United will now travel to the Windy City on August 7th to take on the Chicago Fire, 5-1 winners over Orlando City FC tonight in Orlando, Florida.

Next up for United is a home match against the Vancouver Whitecaps on Saturday night at 7pm before heading out on a three-game road trip through Seattle, Colorado and then Chicago.

United vs Union: Awful start dooms United to fourth consecutive loss

Last season’s motto for D.C. United was “Take Back RFK”. They certainly did that by compiling a 12-1-4 record at the old building and instilling a new confidence in the squad. Apparently the motto so far in this disastrous start to the 2013 season should be named “Give Back RFK” as United lost their third consecutive home match and fourth match overall by a 3-2 score to rival Philadelphia Union.

Philadelphia scored twice in the first eleven minutes to help the visitors to their first ever win at RFK Stadium. Jack McInerney scored twice and Conor Casey scored to help put the visitors out front 3-1 after the first 45 minutes. McInerney, just 20-years old, got the scoring started in the seventh minute thanks mostly to some Keystone Cops defending by United. Defender Dejan Jakovic’ lazy up field pass was easily cut out and started an instant counter attack. Casey put McInerney through towards goal but Jakovic and Brandon McDonald recovered sufficiently to deal with the young striker. McInerney’s simple cut to his left somehow left both of United’s defenders out in the cold as the youngster’s left-footed blast easily beat United goalkeeper Bill Hamid for the quick 1-0 lead.

The visitors soon doubled their advantage just four minutes later. Defender Daniel Woolard took a poor angle and allowed former United midfielder Danny Cruz to get in behind him deep down the right side of the penalty area. Cruz’ simple cutback took Woolard out of the play as he spotted Casey at the top of the penalty area. The burly striker took one touch to his left and sent a worm burner past Hamid’s near post for a shock 2-0 lead.

Considering United’s poor start to the season so far, it wouldn’t have been out of the realm of possibility to see the Black-and-Red pack it in and play to what would have inevitably been a 4 or 5-0 home loss. However, United somehow managed to find the urgency that has been missing all season offensively and halved the deficit in the 17th minute. A poor free kick from Chris Pontius ended back on the midfielders feet and he sent a ball to the left side of the field to Jakovic. The central defender found his partner Brandon McDonald all alone at the top of the area and the his subsequent pass beautifully split the Union defense and hit Dwayne De Rosario in stride. The Canadian then played the ball back towards the penalty spot where Perry Kitchen blasted the ball past Union goalkeeper Zac MacMath to give United a brief respite of hope. The goal, only the third through seven matches was easily United’s best constructed moment of this season.

That hope turned sour once again in the 26th minute when United’s set piece defending failed them once again. Sheanon Williams long throw in was flicked to the back post by defender Amobi Okugo right to McInerney  who picked up the loose ball and fired left-footed once again to beat Hamid. Daniel Woolard was caught ball watching on the play and allowed the Union striker to bag his MLS-leading sixth goal of the season. United now has given up 10 goals in seven matches, 5 of which have been scored on set pieces.

United once again though did not give up and two minutes after the restart had shaved the lead to 3-2. Daniel Woolard got space on the left flank and his inch perfect cross met the head of Lionard Pajoy who easily beat MacMath. United continued to pour players forward for the remainder of the match but to no avail. In fact, Philadelphia had the best scoring opportunity in the dying moments when midfielder Keon Daniel waltzed through the clearly tiring United defense only to see Hamid stone the Union attacker and keep United’s faint equalizing hopes alive. United had a free kick in stoppage time but Carlos Ruiz’ effort was easily handled by MacMath, sealing United’s league-leading fourth loss in a row. United now has dropped to the bottom of the league with the loss.

United will next face the Columbus Crew in the capitol of Ohio next Saturday evening. United will then be off the following weekend before hosting the Houston Dynamo on Wednesday, May 8th.

 

United Notes

– McInerney was drafted seventh overall by the Union at the 2010 MLS SuperDraft. You’ll remember that United had traded Fred and a #1 pick in 2010 for the rights to Troy Perkins. Perkins was then subsequently traded to the Portland Timbers after his awful 2010 season with United. That trade set in motion a number of deals that eventually saw Dwayne De Rosario make his way to United

– Midfielder Marcos Sanchez sprained an ankle in training and did not make the 18-man squad.

– Casey Townsend did make the squad and was seemingly set to make a late appearance when Olsen pulled him back and chose instead Robbie Russell. Olsen said that Russell’s ability to “get his head on everything” was one of the reasons he was chosen over Townsend.

Lionard Pajoy

United vs Real Salt Lake: Pajoy bags game-winner in 1-0 win over RSL

Lionard Pajoy’s 60th minute goal was enough as D.C. United defeated Real Salt Lake 1-0 tonight at RFK Stadium. The win for United (1-1-0  3 points) is their 19th consecutive match without a loss at the old stadium going back to last season’s opening game loss to Sporting Kansas City. Real Salt Lake (1-1-0  3 points) is still win less in Washington all-time. The match was pretty benign through the first forty-five minutes with only Chris Pontius’ sharp angle shot in the 32nd minute being well saved by former United goalkeeper Nick Rimando.

After the break things started to heat up and in the 60th minute United forged ahead. John Thorrington corralled a poor clearance from a Pontius corner and sent a deft chip towards goal that forced Rimando to back peddle just to flap the ball away. Pajoy was right there to head the ball into an empty net as RSL surrounded the referee to ask why Pajoy wasn’t adjudged to be in an offside position. After replays, the assistant referee made the correct call as an RSL defender was slow to come out of the goal on Thorrington’s original shot on goal.

Three minutes later more controversy erupted as RSL defender Kenny Mansally appeared to have head-butted Perry Kitchen. After a brief dust up between the two teams, the referee only awarded a yellow card to Mansally after consulting with one of his assistant referee’s. The edginess continued throughout the remainder of the match as both teams had solid claims for some rough fouls that were never called.

United, playing without their captain Dwayne De Rosario while serving the second of his two-game suspension for his preseason head butt, lacked creativity on offense for the most part but were rock solid defensively all night long, forcing only two saves from Bill Hamid on the night.

After the match head coach Ben Olsen didn’t want to get drawn into a debate about the effectiveness of the goal scorer Pajoy. “He scored the goal,” Olsen said in response to a question describing the numerous missed opportunities Pajoy had to either shoot or setup a teammate in scoring position. “I’m not going to bag on him tonight because he scored.”

Carlos Ruiz

Carlos Ruiz. Photo: Martin Fernandez.

Carlos Ruiz made his debut with United and should have scored in extra time when he was set up beautifully by another substitute Kyle Porter. Porter broke free with the ball down the right wing as RSL were pushing numbers forward and his pass hit Ruiz in stride but Rimando came out and closed down the Guatemalan striker who surely would have sent the 17,072 fans into hysteria had he scored on his home debut.

United will now face their rivals Red Bull New York next weekend in their home opener. The last time United was in Red Bull Arena was this past November in their 1-0 win over Red Bull which eliminated them from the 2012 MLS Cup playoffs.

Disney Pro Soccer Classic: United too much for Tampa Bay in 4-0 win

Lionard Pajoy and Taylor Kemp both scored a pair of goals in D.C. United’s 4-0 win over the Tampa Bay Rowdies tonight in the first game of the Disney Pro Soccer Classic for both squads.

Both teams came out slowly but it was United who ended up carrying most of the play in a scoreless first half. Trialist Kyle Porter, inserted into left midfield, should have given United an early lead but his header in front of goal was way off target. Pajoy and Dwayne De Rosario both had good looks on goal as well but they were well saved by the Tampa goalkeeper.

The second half saw United’s domination continue over the second-division side and the Black-and-Red deservedly took the lead in the 55th minute. Chris Korb sent in a picture perfect cross that met the head of Pajoy who easily guided it to the back post for the 1-0 lead. Just two minutes later Pajoy doubled the advantage after being sent in by a lovely chip from Porter. Pajoy’s cutback between two Rowdie defenders got him the open space needed to execute a textbook chip over the goalkeeper and give United a 2-0 lead.

After the goal, head coach Ben Olsen subbed out all eleven field players but even that didn’t slow down United. Another trialist Ryan Richter, the last player cut from United last preseason, was instrumental in setting up the third goal. His one-two down the right wing with Lewis Neal carved out enough space for him to center a pass towards the goal. Sixteen year-old Academy signing Michael Seaton was charging the goal and the resulted collision with the Tampa Bay goalkeeper left a juicy rebound for United 1st-Round draft pick Taylor Kemp to easily sweep into the empty goal.

Both Richter and Kemp were not finished however and they combined for the last goal in fine counterattacking fashion. Once again Lewis Neal and Richter played a one-two triangle around the Tampa Bay defense and Richter was off down the right sideline. His cross into the penalty area fell perfectly behind Seaton and into the path of Kemp who slammed his second goal into the net.

United saw out the remainder of the match with no trouble at all and will now face a much more stern test on Wednesday afternoon when they take on Easter Conference rivals Sporting Kansas City at 6pm EST.

United vs Chicago: 1-1 draw locks up 2nd place in the Eastern Conference for United

D.C. United finished their improbable run to second place in the Eastern Conference, extending their unbeaten streak to seven games after surviving a few desperate moments in a 1-1 tie with the Chicago Fire.

With the draw, United finishes the regular season as the 2nd place team in the East and will now face their most hated rivals the New York Red Bulls in a two-game total goals aggregate series starting next weekend at Red Bull Arena. Thanks to Red Bull’s comprehensive 3-0 road win over Philadelphia earlier in the day, United knew exactly what they needed to wrap up the 2nd seed. A loss to Chicago would have sent United tumbling to 4th place in the East and would have hosted the Houston Dynamo on Wednesday night at RFK Stadium. With Hurricane Sandy expected to make landfall just north of Washington D.C. late Monday evening, it could have been a logistical nightmare with the expected massive power outages.

As it happens, Lionard Pajoy made that a moot point with his 51st minute equalizer after Patrick Nyarko had give the home side a 1-0 lead in the 16th minute. Pajoy, a much-maligned player outside of United’s locker room, connected on a diving header after a gorgeous whipped in cross from Branko Boskovic to level the match. United continued to apply pressure and should have taken the lead late on only to see Pajoy’s weak chip attempt on a breakaway float harmlessly wide of an open net after Chicago goalkeeper Sean Johnson came out to narrow down the angle.

United came out in their now customary defensive posture but quickly grabbed hold of the match. Against the run of play in the 16th minute, the Fire worked the ball down United’s left wing and found Nyarko 25 yards out in front of goal. Marcelo Saragosa seemed to have a bead on Nyarko but a crafty cut-back move opened up space and the former Virginia Tech Hokie smoked his shot past a helpless Bill Hamid and the early lead. Chicago, had they held on to the lead would have jumped ahead of both United and Red Bull and into the second spot. It was not to be.

United continued to rule the match and got the deserved equalizer just after the halftime break. Branko Boskovic made his way down the left flank and whipped in a low cross that got around the defense and right onto the head of Pajoy who was diving away from goal. His redirect surprised Johnson as it settled into the far side netting. United continued to boss the match and the home side, desperately needing a win to avoid the knockout match, continued their out of sorts play.

The final ten minutes of the match finally saw Chicago pressing forward and they nearly equalized on numerous occasions but were stoned by Hamid on every turn. Hamid saved the best for last when he tipped Alex’ 30-yard bid over the crossbar in the dying seconds of the match to preserve United’s seven-game unbeaten streak and improbable climb up the Eastern Conference standings. Just seven weeks ago, United lost their captain Dwayne De Rosario to a knee injury and everyone except the men of D.C. United thought their season was done.

The second season is just now beginning…

United vs Chivas USA: Boskovic game-winner pushes United further up the Eastern Conference table

It’s been a very difficult week for Branko Boskovic. After being pulled in the 57th minute a week ago against the New England Revolution, the midfielder made known his feelings in the press about his lack of playing time and the perceived lack of faith that D.C. United head coach Ben Olsen has in his player. Just four days after that 2-1 win over the Revolution, Boskovic was pulled again in the 57th minute of a then scoreless draw with Philadelphia.

Fast forward to this evening and Boskovic came in as a sub in the 57th minute but this time he let his play do the talking instead of his mouth in leading United to a vastly important 1-0 win over Chivas USA. The win for United (15-10-5, 50 pts) pulled them into a tie with New York Red Bull for third place in the Eastern Conference and extended their lead over Houston (46 pts) and Columbus (45 pts) who both lost this weekend. With only four matches to play, United is in a very solid position to advance to the playoffs for the first time since 2007.

Both teams came out with a defensive approach to the match but it was United who bossed the first 45 minutes. United had a few guilt-edged chances beginning with Nick DeLeon’s rasping drive from 25 yards in the 13th minute and then a nice save from Kennedy on Maicon Santos in the 20th minute. United threatened once more from DeLeon in the 38th minute but his 30-yard drive was saved comfortably by Kennedy. On the other end of the pitch United had little trouble dealing with MLS’ lowest scoring team (21 goals in 29 matches) with only a weak shot from Nick Labrocca being the only threat in the initial forty-five minutes.

After the break United continued to control the tempo. Although the game-ending stats would show Chivas USA with a 58-42% advantage in possession, their possession was aimless and mostly negative.

All that changed just seven minutes after Boskovic made his appearance into the match. Lionard Pajoy did well to juke and jive Chivas USA defender Jorge Villafana deep along the right sideline. Pajoy broke free just long enough to send a low driven cross into the penalty area where Boskovic dove and neatly headed the ball into the opposite side netting to send RFK Stadium into rapture. The goal was the first for Boskovic in league play through his four seasons with the Black-and-Red and arguably couldn’t have come at a better time.

United managed to see out the remaining thirty five minutes of the match without any real threat from the visitors and extend their club record unbeaten streak to 15 games. United has also clinched their first winning record since the 2007 season.

United has four matches remaining, three of them on the road. “That’s been our Achilles Heel,” head coach Ben Olsen commented after the match in regards to his teams road performances this season, “But we got that monkey off our back in Philadelphia and look forward to this two-game stretch (at Portland and at Toronto FC).”

United will play in Portland next Saturday night before heading up to Canada to play Toronto FC the following weekend. United will be off the week of the October 13th for the World Cup qualifying break and then will host Columbus at RFK Stadium in United’s last home match of the season on October 20th. By that time, all will be revealed and United will know exactly what they need to either qualify or move up the table in the chase for higher playoff seeding.

United vs Union: Pajoy payback ends United road skid as United vault to 4th place in playoff chase

When news broke of team captain Dwayne De Rosario’s season-ending knee injury a week ago, the natural reaction was to think that United once again has to relive a nightmare from the prior season (Chris Pontius’ broken leg was followed by a 1-7-1 stretch to end the season). In the absence of their captain, someone would have to step up and take the mantle of team leader. Clearly Chris Pontius’ application made it to the top of the pile as his assist to Lionard Pajoy was the difference in United’s 1-0 victory over the Philadelphia Union tonight at PPL Park in Chester, Pennsylvania.

Pontius had a goal and an assist in United’s last game, a come-from-behind 2-1 win over the New England Revolution last weekend in D.C. just two days after learning De Rosario’s fate.

And while the game video of D.C. United’s 1-0 win won’t be making the trip to the Major League Soccer Hall of Fame anytime soon, this game served as a reminder that you don’t have to play beautiful flowing soccer to get desired results.  A ragged match between two teams clearly trying to find their own identities devolved into a sloppy turnover-filled affair. Pajoy made his return back to PPL Park to face his former team since the trade last month that sent Danny Cruz northbound on I-95 and pulled off the ultimate redemption by scoring the game-winning goal in the 67th minute and virtually eliminating his former side from the MLS playoff race.

The win for United (14-10-5, 47 points) breaks a six-game road losing skid and pushes United past both Columbus (45 pts) and Houston (46 pts) and into 4th place in the Eastern Conference. All three teams have five matches remaining in the season but no result was bigger than this one this season for the Black-and-Red.

A very disjointed first half from both sides saw scant few chances with only Chris Pontius’ 35-yard free kick being the only credible chance at goal for both sides. United goalkeeper Bill Hamid showed a signs of nervousness when he misplayed three separate attempts to clear balls from the penalty area and almost gifted the home side with a goal midway through the first half.

After the break both Hamid and United started to settle into the match and starting dictating to the Union. Fielding a very young side without any real goalscoring threats the home team generated very little all game long except for a few nervy moments in United’s penalty area late in the match.

United’s breakthrough in the 67th minute came courtesy of the fresh legs of substitute Maicon Santos. The Brazilian triggered a quick and rare counter attack with a perfectly weighted 30-yard pass between two Union defenders and right into the stride of Pontius. United’s newly appointed talisman made a move on Union defender Gabriel Farfan that freed him deep in the penalty area. Former University of Maryland goalkeeper Zac MacMath cut down Pontius’ angle to goal but the fourth-year player from UC-Santa Barbara calmly chipped the ball to the penalty spot where Pajoy chested the ball down and rifled home a shot just an instant before former United midfielder Brian Carroll could knock it away.

Philadelphia could only muster a few half-chances that sent nerves jangling a bit through the United defense but the Black-and-Red held on to the vital three road points and renewed some confidence heading into a weekend match up on Sunday afternoon against an admittedly poor Chivas USA side.

With a win on Sunday, United could further fortify their playoff positioning and with some help from the New England Revolution (who host New York Red Bull on Saturday night) could move into third place in the East.

Just a week ago that scenario didn’t even seem remotely possible.