Goal-difference allowed D.C. United to maintain possession of first place after Sundays loss to the New York Red Bulls. Keeping possession of the ball is now of more concern for United as it looks to extends its home unbeaten string Saturday against Montreal.
United is 6-0-2 at RFK Stadium since losing its season opener to Sporting Kansas City on March 10. What has transpired over the last three months is the development of United into a legitimate MLS Cup contender, but one that as head coach Ben Olsen always stresses, has plenty of work to do.
In the last two games on the road United struggled to seize control against both Philadelphia and New York. In fact the Union were the better team, but United found a way to a 1-0 win. Against the Red Bulls, United was overwhelmed in the first half and its chase of the game ended up short in a 3-2 loss.
We didnt figure out how to deal with some of the numbers they (Red Bulls) were throwing forward after we scored an early goal, Olsen noted. And, you know much like Philly we adjusted at halftime and I thought things went well from there. It was almost the opposite of the first half, and it was a little unlucky that we didnt finish a couple of pretty good chances there down the stretch.
It's been clear that Branko Boskovic has helped steady the midfield when he was brought on as a second half substitute in the last two games. Beyond his ability to deliver razor sharp set pieces, he has helped United wrestle back control of the matches against the Union and Red Bulls.
I thought overall I saw some really good attacking stuff, and Branko was a part of a lot of them," Olsen said after the loss to the Red Bulls. He came in and slowed the game down for us and gave us some real possession. Dwayne (De Rosario) going up a little bit I thought helped give us a little something.
Boskovic, who has three assists in the last four matches, was rewarded with a new contract this week. Back in 2010 Boskovic was signed as a designated player, but has spent much of his United career struggling with health and fitness. When healthy, Boskovic has displayed the quality that has made him the central figure on Montenegros national team.
Going into Saturdays game against the expansion Impact, Olsen has the luxury of managing a Black and Red side that is essentially at full fitness. Among Olsens options would be to do what he did in the second half of the Red Bulls game, and start Boskovic in the middle and push De Rosario higher below the striker.
If that happens then Olsen must figure out how to play forwards Maicon Santos, Chris Pontius and Hamdi Salihi. The three attackers are playing at a high level and since returning from an injured glut muscle Pontius has netted three goals in two games. With his 8 goals, Pontius is now one ahead of Santos for the teams goal scoring lead.
If Boskovic does get the nod in midfield, Olsen could return Pontius to a familiar position on the left side of midfield. If that happens, Olsen will then have to decide whether to open the game with Santos or Salihi up top with De Rosario. Regardless of whom starts it is clear United has the depth in midfield they will need with Andy Najar set to depart for Olympic duty with Honduras on Monday.
United is all too aware of the dangers of facing the expansion Impact. In their last meeting at RFK Stadium, the Impact earned a 1-1 draw. In fact the Impact opened the season 1-5-2, but since their match against United, they have gone 4-3-1. Like expansion teams often are, the Impact have been wildly inconsistent.
The Impact scored four goals each in two straight home games, before falling to Toronto FC 3-0 on Wednesday night at Stade Saputo. The Impact hardly looked like the side that enjoyed a 4-1 win over Seattle and a 4-2 win over Houston. The match ended with midfielder Patrice Bernier earning a league suspension for a reckless challenge, and he will not play against United.
The Impact have been getting it done it on offense by committee. Eight players have scored at least two goals. That could change with the addition of former Italian international Marco Di Vaio, who made his club debut against Toronto. Di Vaio is one of the greatest goal scorers in Serie A history with 142 goals in 342 games.