Ben Olsen calls United win a "relief"
It's been a long time since the locker room at RFK has seen so many smiles, but after United's first win in 14 matches, there was a welcome sense of something different in the air tonight.
"Relief," said head coach Ben Olsen. "We've all been tested, and we'll continue to be tested for the rest of this year. It's been brutal. It's been brutal for the staff and the players. It's been brutal for the organization. It's been brutal for our fans. But what I'm most proud of is that we kept things moving forward."
For the second week in a row, D.C. United put themselves on the board first via penalty kicks. Unlike their match against Toronto, however, in which United quickly relinquished both the lead and the game, DCU hung on to win 1-0 tonight thanks to a mix of elevated play and a bit of luck.
In an early push in the 10th minute John Thorrington played the ball to Chris Korb, who was then taken down on a slide tackle by San Jose defender Justin Morrow. The foul inside the box earned United a penalty kick, which Chris Pontius had the honor of delivering to the back of the net for his first goal of the season.
Earthquakes keeper Jon Busch took a premature dive to his right, allowing Pontius to chip the ball easily into the back of the net.
It was Pontius' first game back since missing last week's 2-1 loss to Toronto due to a concussion suffered in United's Open Cup win over the Union earlier that week.
"I felt fine," said Pontius. "I felt like I actually got into a groove this game. It was one of the first games this year that I've gotten into a rhythm and felt like my old self again."
As United continued to press for a second goal, late lapses on defense threatened to cause things to unravel.
Quakes midfielder Shea Salinas had a pair of opportunities in the 62nd and 63rd minutes. Ten minutes later Adam Jahn nearly tied things on a left-footed shot that sailed by United keeper Bill Hamid and hit the far post. Then in the 86th, Salinas sent the perfect doorstep delivery to Alan Gordon, whose final touch at point blank range sent the ball sailing over the net.
"I give Bill and the defense a lot of credit," said Pontius. "There were some scary moments in the closing minutes there but we kept the shutout."
"It feels good. It's a huge weight off our shoulders," said midfielder Nick DeLeon. "We finally got a win. We finally got a few breaks at the end they had a few good looks. Bill came back with a few big saves. We finally got some breaks that we haven't had all year."
Despite the 13-game winless streak, things appeared to be coming around for United in recent weeks. A hard-fought battle in New England on June 8 earned United a rare point, while a dominant performance in the Open Cup play later that week showed a glimpse of potency in the club's offense.
"For the last two or three weeks I've thought that we've leveled off from that spiral," said Olsen. "I've felt that there's a good energy and a spirit with the guys that they really want to get out of this. I thought you saw that a bit tonight and hopefully it's something to build off. We have to build off it."
It's been a long time coming and DCU is hoping that tonight's win will be contagious.
"Sometimes it just takes one win and you can go on a little roll," said DeLeon. "I know for a lot of the guys it's a huge weight off our shoulders so we can start to relax and play a little soccer."