“It’s been brutal,” Coach Ben Olsen said after United (2-11-3) won a regular season match for the first time since March 9.
“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 am most proud of is we kept things moving forward. We had some bumps. [But no one around the team had] given up hope.”
Chris Pontius scored his first goal of the year on an 11th-minute penalty kick and, breaking from season-long trends, United played a composed, simple and effective game to win in Washington for the first time since the home opener against Real Salt Lake.
The first halftime lead of the regular season held up as Bill Hamid made a key late save in recording his fourth shutout.
“Awful, terrible” is how Pontius described the past 21 / 2 months.
“It tests you off the field as well, mentally,” he said. “As tough as it is, the guys have come put the work in. Hopefully, this is one of many games we can put a streak together.”
United has actually performed decently in recent weeks. It earned a draw at New England and defeated Philadelphia in the U.S. Open Cup. On Saturday, D.C. was in control for much of the evening against the Earthquakes (4-7-6), who were missing 2012 MLS MVP Chris Wondolowski (foot injury).
United will seek to carry the momentum into Wednesday’s Open Cup quarterfinal against New England at Maryland SoccerPlex. With little hope of making the MLS playoffs, the 100th annual tournament is the club’s best bet for success.
“We have got the feeling we are starting to turn in the right direction,” midfielder John Thorrington said.
United went ahead on Pontius’s penalty kick, awarded when Justin Morrow tripped overlapping right back Chris Korb at the end of a fine build-up and service from Thorrington.
Pontius, a Best XI all-league selection last year with a team-best 12 goals, entered the evening scoreless in 920 minutes. Injuries had added to his frustration, most recently a concussion.
Center back Ethan White departed late in the half with a possibile concussion and was replaced by Conor Shanosky, a Potomac Falls High graduate who, in his second career regular season appearance, was solid in the middle.
With Thorrington in the hub, United moved the ball well and dictated terms for considerable stretches of the second half.
San Jose did not threaten until the last 30 minutes: Shea Salinas’s 10-yard smash forced Hamid to make a reflex save and Adam Jahn swiveled in the box and sent a 16-yarder off the far post.
In the 86th, amid an urgent and hectic push, Salinas supplied Alan Gordon for a clear seven-yard volley that narrowly missed the top of the target. And in the dying seconds, Morrow’s threatening one-timer from the center of the box soared over the crossbar.
“Sometimes it just takes one win and you can go on a little roll,” midfielder Nick DeLeon said. “It’s a huge weight off [the team’s] shoulders. We can start to relax and play some soccer.”