D.C. United allowed 20 shots, seven corner kicks, and two goals in the dying moments. They surrendered possession for long stretches, putting their goalkeeper and defenders under real pressure. Their patchwork back line became even more threadbare with a hip injury to Jordan Graye.
But none of that will matter to United because, on Thursday night, they strode into the noisiest venue in MLS and stole three points from Seattle in thrilling fashion, propelling themselves into the World Cup break on cloud nine.
United’s 3-2 victory offered up a mirror image of so many of the club’s early-season losses, when their overall quality was overshadowed by a lack of attacking punch, allowing more ruthless opponents to take advantage.
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In Seattle, D.C. were hit with wave after wave of menacing attacks and were often exposed during periods when the match flowed with pace on Qwest Field’s slick artificial turf.
But events took a dramatic turn when one United player finally did what many of the team’s fans have begged them to do more of: shoot the ball early and often.
Making light of his side’s relative paucity of possession, Chris Pontius conjured up possibly the most resourceful hat trick in United history, finding the net first on a deflected shot, then a shocking miscue by distinguished veteran Kasey Keller and —for the game winner— a header that was probably meant to be a pass to teammate Adam Cristman.
“It’s kind of weird, because I didn’t think I played exactly great tonight, especially in the second half,” Pontius told DCunited.com’s Tony Limarzi afterwards. “But everyone just looks at the goals. I know I need to improve my performance, but three points in Seattle going into the World Cup break, and unbeaten in five now —it feels great.”
Coach Curt Onalfo will rue the way his squad crumbled in the final seconds after defending so stoutly for the night’s first 89 minutes, and losing Graye for any significant period would be yet another injury setback.
Both, however, seem small matters in light of United’s overall turnaround over the past three weeks following a dreadful start to the season. After scoring just 8 goals in their first 10 outings, United have now found the net 11 times the five games since, carving out a 4-0-1 record over three league matches, an international friendly and a US Open Cup qualifier.
The return of Pontius from a long-term hamstring problem has been a major factor in the Black-and-Reds recent string of positive results, with the second-year man making himself at home on the left wing and repeatedly showing impressive instincts around goal.
Furthermore, Onalfo and his staff have managed to staunch the bleeding at the back and instill a more resilient approach to collective defending, even as first-choice backs have fallen to injuries. Julius James produced an epic performance at center back and rookie Barry Rice, who made his first-ever MLS appearance in place of Graye on Wednesday, held his own in an unfamiliar position against Freddie Ljungberg, a designated player and World Cup veteran.
It wasn’t always pretty, but as Pontius said in his postgame remarks, “we did enough tonight.”
For a club that has already endured a season’s worth of frustration and misfortune, those simple words will be music to the ears from here until November.