D.C. United have mystified fans and observers in a number of ways this year, be it their maddening tendency to surrender late goals, a 6-0 record in games played on Wednesday or the fact that the team’s leading scorer is a 17-year-old academy product.
But the oddest quirk of a difficult season might be this: the worst attack in MLS, the one that has scored just 12 times in 17 matches, has racked up 18 goals in 7 non-league games (three friendlies and four U.S. Open Cup contests). Four of those tallies came in Saturday’s 4-0 win over England Championship side Portsmouth FC.
While the bizarre circumstances of that friendly might cast it as an exceptional occasion, for a team that has experienced so much adversity in league play, it’s something to build on.
“It was a weird game. I don’t even know how to explain it,” D.C. goalkeeper Troy Perkins admitted afterwards. “To be honest, I kind of figured we would win pretty big, but 4-0 and one guy [Danny Allsopp] having a hat trick wasn’t what I was thinking.”
Shorthanded, cash-strapped and jet-lagged, Portsmouth were missing their uniforms and probably cursing the bad luck that brought them to Washington on one of the capital city’s hottest days of the year. But United can take heart from the manner in which they overcame the visitors’ rough-house tactics and matched their season high for offensive productivity, with striker Allsopp making use of good service to notch three goals.
“I think this wins really helps us,” Allsopp said. “It gives the two new guys (Branko Boskovic and Pablo Hernandez) more time to settle down and get used to things. They have both done really well. Overall, this is great for our confidence and we can take tonight's result into next week when we get back to playing in the league.”
Both Boskovic and Hernandez have showed glimpses of real quality since joining the team earlier this month, and Saturday marked their most significant contributions yet. Boskovic orchestrated the United midfield for long stretches, while Hernandez shrugged off a litany of crude tackles as he asserted his influence around the Portsmouth penalty box.
“Yeah, tonight we looked like the old D.C. team – playing, movement, guys running off the ball. We found ourselves a lot of space,” Perkins said.
Given the differing stakes and uneven opposition, statistics like those United have racked up in non-league matches should certainly be taken with a grain of salt. But at this point, every encouraging performance has value as the club tries mightily to generate much-needed momentum in MLS action.
“It was a lot of events,” said United’s Bill Hamid, describing the Portsmouth match with characteristic understatement. “But it was a good night. We scored a lot of goals, something we’ve been lacking. It was good for us to go out there and put a couple of goals by them and get our scoring confidence up.”