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Playoff berth finally coming into sight for D.C. United

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Sports,D.C. United,Craig Stouffer

Win at lowly Toronto would be a huge boost

After losing six straight games on the road over the summer, D.C. United finally started to figure things out in its last two matches away from RFK Stadium.

The turnaround came after a switch to a lone-striker formation. Of course, it also resulted in minimal offensive production.

A win in Saturday's visit to lowly Toronto (5-19-7, 22 points) would go a long way toward the franchise's first playoff berth since 2007, so United (15-10-6, 51 points) can't afford to fall short in front of the net. But United coach Ben Olsen isn't so sure about loosening the reins of his attack.

Up next
D.C. United at Toronto FC
When » Saturday, 1 p.m.
Where » BMO Field, Toronto
TV » CSN
D.C. United's Dejan Jakovic and Hamdi Salihi have been called up to the Canadian and Albanian national teams, respectively, for World Cup qualifying matches Oct. 12 and 16. Both players won't miss any MLS matches. United midfielder Branko Boskovic turned down a call from the Montenegro national team to remain with United during its push for the playoffs.

"I don't know if we need to change anything that we've been doing," Olsen said.

United hasn't scored in the first half of its last three matches, in which it has managed just one goal a game, including a 1-1 tie last week at Portland and a 1-0 win at Philadelphia on Sept. 20. In part, the struggles have been a result of losing injured Dwayne De Rosario for the remainder of the season. United's fortunes also could change against Toronto, which has allowed a league-worst 59 goals, nearly two per game.

"I feel like if you put them away early, they're going to be scattered. They're going to be all over the place," United defender Dejan Jakovic said. "Obviously this game means to us a lot more than to them. We've got to take advantage of that."

Olsen has made the most of his second-half substitutes to help turn games in his favor. Often leaving an attacking player like Maicon Santos (seven goals, three assists), Hamdi Salihi (five goals) or Branko Boskovic (one goal, five assists) on the bench at the start, Olsen gives himself the option to make a tactical switch after halftime from one forward to two.

"We can't be a team right now of hope," Olsen said. "We have to be a team that is mentally committed to going and getting the job done ourselves. I think we have more of that mentality now than we did last year."

United can't yet clinch a playoff berth this weekend. But a victory combined with a tie between New York (15-8-8, 53 points) and Chicago (16-10-5, 53 points) would move United into a tie for second place in the Eastern Conference. More importantly, it could distance United from Columbus (14-11-6, 48 points), putting a postseason berth on the line when the Crew visits RFK on Oct. 20.

"We've got to come out aggressive," United midfielder Nick DeLeon said. "We're playing Toronto at Toronto, and no offense, but we're a good team. We need to take it to them, but we also need to be there for each other, to bail each other out on the defensive end."

cstouffer@washingtonexaminer.com

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