Optimistic Signs For DC United

Eddie Johnson’s goal may have even more impact on the team than you might think
by Peter Muller   |   Monday, May 19, 2014

United Capitol – column on DC United (DCU) & the Washington DC/DMV area soccer scene.

When Eddie Johnson rose high to head home Fabian Espindola’s cross in the 84th minute in Saturday night’s draw with the Montreal Impact he finally did what he was brought to D.C. to do – score a goal.

Ten games into the season, and at a time when he was expected to have been at the U.S. Men’s National team training camp preparing for the World Cup, Johnson opened his D.C. United account with a header from 6 yards out.

Johnson’s goal came too late to help him earn a place on United States’ preliminary 30-man roster but was just in time for United to secure the draw and continue a strong early season stretch that has already seen the team win more games than it did the entire 2013 season.

And in a competitive Eastern Conference an in-form Johnson could be what United needs to make the club a legitimate playoff contender.  United currently sits in 4th place in the Eastern Conference with games in hand against many of its conference rivals.

Johnson was expected to be a big part of any success United achieves this year – primarily by scoring goals. 

But until he finally broke through on Saturday he has had to settle for less visible contributions.  DCU coach Ben Olsen has praised his work holding the ball and leading the front line, and his physical presence has given United’s attack a more threatening look.

“He’s in so many good spots and we’ve let him down a lot with lack of quality service,” said Olsen.  “He knows what to do in the 6 yard box when the ball is delivered properly.  We just need to continue to give him that type of service and he’ll start getting on the board more.”

While United’s players and coaches have expressed disappointment that Johnson was not selected for the World Cup squad they are happy to have him available for MLS games.

“He fits in our system,” said goalkeeper Bill Hamid.  “He fits our games plan and we are delighted to have him for the whole season.”

United has found goals without Johnson, primarily through Espindola who leads the club with 4 goals and 4 assists and Chris Rolfe and Davy Arnaud who have chipped in with 2 goals each.

But if Johnson can begin to put the ball in the net on a regular basis he can transform United’s attack into one that is truly threatening.

Strengthened defense

United’s early season success is attributable in large part to a sturdier defense. 

An influx of veterans brought in before the season led to a revamping of the back line that is paying dividends.  Bobby Boswell and Jeff Parke have solidified a defense that is giving up half a goal less per game this year than it did last season.

That record would be even better if it were not for the weak link in the back four – Cristian Fernandez.  The Spaniard was acquired to provide attacking thrust from the left back position and he has indeed proven to be threatening going forward.

Unfortunately, he has proven to be even more of a threat on defense.  In the latest example, Justin Mapp blew past him on Saturday night before crossing a ball that led to Jack McInerney’s goal for Montreal.

When Sean Franklin returns from injury to reclaim the right back position Olsen may consider giving Chris Korb, who has been deputizing for Franklin, a shot at Fernandez’ left back spot.

United in 7-game Eastern Conference Stretch

Saturday’s draw with Montreal is the second in a stretch of 7 straight games United is playing against Eastern Conference teams.  With Johnson unexpectedly available United will hope that Franklin returns from injury to give Olsen a full squad from which to select (Chris Pontius is on long-term injury leave).

United hosts longtime nemesis Houston Dynamo at RFK Stadium on Wednesday night in a clash of teams sitting 3rd and 4th in the Eastern Conference.

Houston has been a difficult opponent for United over the years, including defeating D.C. in the Eastern Conference championship series in 2012. 

United will finish a busy week by travelling to New England to face the conference leading Revolution on Saturday night.

NEXT UP: May 21 - DC United vs. Houston Dynamo, RFK Stadium, Washington, D.C. 7:00 p.m. EST, MLS Live.


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Peter is a government relations professional in Washington, DC, and Los Angeles, CA. He has been a DC United season ticket holder since 1997 and has attended every MLS Cup except one – in 1998 when he was busy helping his boss get re-elected to Congress.