Resilience keeping United atop Eastern heap
WASHINGTON -- D.C. United presently lead Major League Soccer in goals scored (15) and occupy first place in the Eastern Conference. But as anyone on East Capitol Street would quick acknowledge, there's plenty to work on as the Black-and-Red have leaked 13 goals and dropped valuable points in their five drawn matches, all of which saw D.C. surrender a lead or outplay the opposition over the balance of 90 minutes.Yet the biggest cause for optimism in United circles is the '09 squad's stubborn resilience, a quality they've consistently displayed in a range of trying circumstances. Scoring five of their 15 goals in the final 15 minutes of play, D.C. has yet to be dominated in any match and the growth of that fighting spirit surely ranks as the most significant progress from last year's struggles."Personally, it's something that I've never been a part of as a player, in my career," said midfielder Clyde Simms. "To be able to keep that mindset the entire game, even though being down, usually teams [find it] tough to keep pushing and end up giving up. But I think that this team especially does a great job of staying after it and sticking to the game plan for 90 minutes."Saturday's 3-3 draw with Toronto FC offered a useful example of this strange phenomenon. United failed to fully exploit an excellent first-half display and suddenly found themselves trailing 2-1 in the 63rd minute after two individual mishaps, only to rally at the death, Jaime Moreno's stoppage-time penalty kick either snatching or salvaging a point, depending on one's perspective."This group is a very good group as far as their character. Obviously we are dropping some points, which is concerning," said head coach Tom Soehn this week, before noting the leaguewide trend of late drama thus far this season."It's a really funny league this year in the fact that there are so many ties and a lot of late goals. I'm not really sure I understand it. Our mentality going in is that we're not going to give up, we're going to fight until the end -- that's the reason why it has happened for us. Why it has happened everywhere, I'm not sure."While such collective heart is a welcome development at this stage of the campaign, United would obviously prefer not to have to dig so deep on a regular basis. Veterans like Ben Olsen might recall previous seasons in which D.C. produced consistent quality only to find their reserves drained in the crucial closing stages of the MLS marathon.In last year's heartbreaking finish, the club found themselves in need of three points on the final matchday in Columbus, only to see their playoff hopes vanish as shot after shot hit the woodwork."It's a good quality to have, but again, I think we're good enough where we don't need to have that quality every game," said Olsen on Tuesday. "We shouldn't be having to gut out all these ties. We're a good team and we showed that we can be in situations where we don't have to do that."Maintaining their refuse-to-lose mentality should help avoid another desperate October this time around, however. This year's side has already produced ample proof that it possesses more backbone than the 2008 version, with cohesiveness and solidarity taking root early."I don't think anyone has gotten down on each other. I think fingers were pointed in the past and that's always detrimental to a team," said defender Bryan Namoff. "This year, we've set the standard very high and with the veterans we have, we put that level where we want to be and where we expect. And I think the newcomers have bought into that."