Eager for a win, Willis' PK save sets tone
Before defeating Chicago on Saturday night, it had been a long time since D.C. United last earned a victory. Winless throughout the preseason to that point (0-1-3), it was back on September 24 of last year that the Black-and-Red collected their most recent win.
It's no surprise then that - while results rarely matter in preseason - D.C.'s coaching staff has put a clear emphasis on winning here in Charleston.
"That was our number one key coming into tonight," midfielder Chris Pontius said on Saturday. "We wanted to start a winning trend tonight and this weekend."
While Hamdi Salihi's 66th minute strike will go down as the game-winner, victory would have been all but impossible if not for a play made much earlier in the game. Staring down World Cup veteran Pavel Pardo in the fifth minute, second-year goalkeeper Joe Willis stuffed the former Mexican international's attempt from the penalty spot, keeping D.C. from going behind early.
"The way he lined up, I had an idea," said Willis, who admits he's had success in penalty situations before but denied being a PK-specialist. "[I thought] that he was probably going to my right and luckily, I was right."
"For Joe to pull us out of that was big," Head Coach Ben Olsen said after training Monday. "I thought overall he had a very steady game and it becomes a very good game when he saves the PK."
Beyond the save's impact on the scoreboard, Olsen acknowledged what it meant to Willis' teammates.
"It's a big boost that he makes that save," added the second-year head coach. "It always gives you that second chance, and guys kind of wake up from that."
"The win was huge," noted the 23-year-old goalkeeper. "It was our first win of preseason. When it comes down to it we didn't play the best soccer at times but we found a way to win and that's what is most important."
Willis and his teammates are back in action Wednesday night against the Charleston Battery. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:15 p.m. and a live stream of the game will be carried on dcunited.com