WASHINGTON – Immediately following DC United’s 3-2 win over the visiting Houston Dynamo last Saturday, Phil Collins’s “In the Air Tonight” was pumped into a rain soaked RFK Stadium over the public address system.
It wasn’t just an appropriate selection given the lyrics; more importantly it silenced the collective sigh of relief that surely came from the 13,975 in attendance that had braved the elements for the second consecutive weekend hoping for a change in fortunes.
Now while the home team – and its supporters – hadn’t exactly been waiting for such a moment for all of their lives, it had been awhile.
DC United came into its match with last season’s MLS Cup finalists on a six-game unbeaten streak but something was noticeably absent – back-to-back wins.
Are you ready for this stat?
It took 89 games, stretched out over parts of four seasons but after another strong performance by Maicon Santos (two goals) as well as the 2011 Major League Soccer MVP Dwayne De Rosario finally opening up his scoring account on the year; it’s now a thing of the past.
Head coach Ben Olsen, who was on the active roster in the summer of 2009 when the run of futility began, summed it up rather simply in his post game press conference.
“It’s a sense of relief,” Olsen said about the back-to-back victories.
Over the course of a season, especially one as long as the MLS campaign, there are certain talking points that can linger, both good and bad.
Having to constantly address the inability to accomplish something that every other team in Major League Soccer had done – even expansion teams such as Philadelphia (2010) and Portland/Vancouver (2011) who joined after the streak began – is a distraction. Plain and simple.
So with the proverbial monkey off its back, DC United (4-2-3, 15 points), now in second place in the Eastern Conference, must play three consecutive road games, starting tonight in San Jose.
For a club attempting to qualify for the playoffs for the first time since 2007, it’s important for the players to understand that winning two games in a row doesn’t equate to a job well done for the season.
The good news is that they are saying all of the right things at the moment.
“It’s great but now we are going to San Jose and we are looking to win there too,” newly converted forward Chris Pontius said.
“We aren’t satisfied, we aren’t getting complacent.”
If any player shouldn’t be satisfied with back-to-back wins, it should be Pontius.
Of the 68 players used during the streak Pontius was the only player to appear in both the before and the after. Defender Dejan Jakovic is still on the roster but was inactive due to an injury in the win against Houston.
Midfielder Danny Cruz, in his first year with the Black-and-Red, had some fun with the ending of the streak before getting serious about what lies ahead.
“You guys can’t talk about back to back wins anymore,” Cruz joked with a group of reporters.
“So now maybe four years down the road hopefully we aren’t dealing with it. The first thing De Rosario said was ‘let’s not let up’ and he’s right. Two in a row is great but we aren’t satisfied with that.”
In facing the Western Conference leading Earthquakes (19 points), United will once again need to rely on their new partnership up top with Santos and Pontius.
Santos surprisingly sits alone in fourth place in MLS with six goals in nine games while his teammate Pontius is tied for fifth with four goals. The emergence of Pontius as a forward, who Olsen thinks is still learning the position, allows De Rosario to slide back into his natural role as an attacking midfielder.
“I’m getting more and more comfortable in being able to read Maicon and De Rosario,” Pontius said about his new role.
In fact Pontius did more than just say it, he proved it with a recent hat-trick in a win against the New York Red Bulls.
The move also frees up space for both Cruz and rookie Nick DeLeon to play on the wing. Andy Najar, the 2010 Rookie of the Year is still trying to earn his spot back after leaving on international duty last month.
United will need contributions from everywhere if the winning streak is to continue as San Jose is on a little run of its own with six unbeaten.
So when’s the last time DC United won three in a row? That’s a topic for another day.
Follow @BobbyBancroft for more on DC United