D.C. United Coach Ben Olsen needed to see vast defensive improvement and a recharged attack. But first and foremost Wednesday night, he needed to see a wayward squad rediscover its pride and courage and end a wretched stretch of soccer.
United delivered in all areas. Andy Najar, Charlie Davies and Josh Wolff manufactured a pair of goals, a revamped back line stood tall and the entire team responded to Olsen’s challenges in earning a 2-1 victory over the Seattle Sounders before 11,254 at RFK Stadium.
“We were pretty charged up and we knew what was at stake,” Olsen said. “It wasn’t dire, but it was pretty important for where we’re at and where we were mentally.”
United (3-4-1) had conceded four goals in each of its previous two MLS matches, and just as alarming, lacked effort and energy. But after two tense days of workouts, team meetings and soul-searching, D.C. showed marked improvement in ending Seattle’s six-game unbeaten streak.
“It was a tough week,” Wolff said. “We had some real conversations and some honesty with each other. Not that it was throwing anybody under the bus, but there was some realness to it. At times, it’s necessary. For this team to move forward, you have to have those. Tonight was a good response.”
Wolff benefited from Najar and Davies’s work in the 31st minute. Davies profited from Najar and Wolff’s ingenuity early in the second half. And after Brad Evans’s penalty kick halved Seattle’s deficit, United goalkeeper Bill Hamid made two excellent saves.
“It feels great to know we’re back in the middle of things and not falling through the bottom,” rookie defender Ethan White said. “We had to get the three points, and on the field, it showed.”
The beleaguered back line had a new look because of hamstring injuries.
Daniel Woolard replaced Marc Burch at left back and rookie Perry Kitchen, who had played exclusively in the middle, replaced Jed Zayner on the right. White filled Kitchen’s slot, partnering with Dejan Jakovic.
In midfield, Najar made his first start in league play since March 26. United played with energy and emotion, elements that were alarmingly absent during a 4-1 loss at Houston last week. D.C. lacked grace and artistry, but as the match unfolded, the club found its way.
United went ahead on an exquisite sequence. From midfield, Najar spotted Davies dashing past Jhon Kennedy Hurtado and supplied a low ball. Hurtado was late attempting to stab it, allowing the swift Davies to dash off.
When Patrick Ianni cut down the angle, Davies placed a perfect cross into the path of Wolff for a seven-yard one-timer past Kasey Keller.
Four minutes later, Keller made a superb diving save on Kitchen’s 12-yard volley.
After Chris Pontius exited early in the second half with calf tightness, United doubled the lead.
Again, the Najar-Davies-Wolff combination carved apart the Seattle defense. Najar twirled in midfield and used his clever instincts to set up Wolff in stride on the right side.
Wolff crossed to Davies, who tucked between two defenders and stuffed the ball into the net from three yards for his league-high sixth goal.
“When your strikers are on the same page, and can create a goal and score a goal, the team is going to look forward to making that happen more often,” Davies said. “After tonight, everyone knows, Charlie and Wolffy, you have to watch out for both of them and we’re only going to grow together. It can be something special.”
Keller prevented further damage with a full-extension save on White’s header.
It was a vital stop, because three minutes later, the Sounders (3-3-3) broke through.
Jakovic took down Fredy Montero from behind and Evans converted the penalty in the 71st.
The momentum had swung in Seattle’s favor, and Hamid was under duress.
In the 73rd, he made a leaping save on Alvardo Fernandez’s header, and in the 76th, touched away Montero’s bid. In the waning moments, Jakovic alleviated pressure by disrupting a dangerous counterattack.
“We’ve challenged each other all week,” Olsen said, “and I’m glad the guys got rewarded for the effort.”