Holding down the center
Perhaps no image better suits Daniel Woolard’s season, his style of play, than the one Washington Post photographer Tony Quinn snapped toward the end of D.C. United’s 2-1 loss against Toronto FC at RFK Stadium in June.
The photo shows Woolard screaming at referee Hilario Grajeda with blood streaming down the left side of his face. Woolard was elbowed by Darel Russell and it left a huge gash above his left eye, but no call was made.
Bloodied but unfazed, Woolard made his next start – one of nine in a row the Bedford, Texas native has made. Business as usual for the stay-at-home defender at the heat of United’s defense.
“I like to try to do things by showing hard work and trying to do the little things right. By taking care of myself,” Woolard said. “I think guys understand what it takes. It’s not going to be easy. No team’s going to come in here and take it easy, they’re coming in seeing blood.”
Last season, Woolard was as consistent as they come for United. He started 20 of the club’s first 21 games before suffering a concussion against Columbus on Aug. 4. Now fully recovered, Woolard sports headgear in hopes of preventing further injury. Still, he’s taken his blows.
“The helmet has a magnet to it,” Woolard said. “It’s got some gravitational pull or something that brings hits to my face. I don’t know why.”
Last year Woolard logged 1,754 minutes at outside back and center back. The season before that he started 26 matches and totaled 2,254 minutes. And remarkably, this season – during which he’s started 17 matches and played 1,439 minutes – marked the first time in his MLS career his was carded as he’s been cautioned three times in 2013. After playing sparingly in three seasons with the Chicago Fire, Woolard has found consistent playing time under United coach Ben Olsen for the last three years. Used as an outside back earlier in the season, Olsen recently has shifted Woolard to center back, where he says he’s better-suited.
“Just consistently playing in a position makes you a little more comfortable with it,” said the 29-year-old Woolard, who attended Midwestern State University. “Physically, it’s an easier position on my body as well. Playing outside’s not an easy role going up and down the flank and dealing with the outside guys in this league.”
With United’s uninspired 4-1 loss against Chicago as an outlier, D.C. have allowed 13 goals in the previous nine games which Woolard has started.
“I think he’s in his natural position,” Olsen said. “He’s always told me that he’s a center back and telling me he didn’t want to be out wide chasing these guys all day long. And he’s done a good job in there. He’s steady and overall he’s been a pleasant surprise."