Portland, OR (Sports Network) - D.C. United lost MLS MVP Dwayne De Rosario to injury earlier this month, and has not lost since. All of a sudden, United has closed in on its first playoff berth in five years.
Since losing De Rosario, who was named MVP last season after joining United in a midseason trade, D.C. (15-10-5) has won three straight matches to secure its place in the top five in the Eastern Conference.
"I think the guys have all raised their game a little bit," United manager Ben Olsen said.
Although there is still work to do, D.C. can take another huge step toward its first playoff appearance since 2007 with a win Saturday against the Portland Timbers (7-15-8) at Jeld-Wen Field.
Life without De Rosario has produced solid performances for United, including a 2-1 win over the New England Revolution and 1-0 wins over the Philadelphia Union and Chivas USA.
"We talked about getting nine points in three games as a goal, and you go about working towards it and then when you get it, it feels good," Olsen said.
United proved against Philadelphia it could win away from home, but with just a 4-9-1 record on the road this season, the most important part of a five-game stretch against the worst teams in the league starts this weekend.
"We've put ourselves in a pretty good position, but now we have to go away for two games and that has been our Achilles heel," Olsen said.
United is tied for third place in the East with Red Bull New York, both squads have 50 points from 30 matches, but while D.C. is just five points off the top and first-place Sporting Kansas city, it is also just five ahead of Columbus - which is sixth.
Only the top five teams from each conference advance to the playoffs, and D.C. has to take advantage of matches against Portland this week and at Toronto FC in its next game - two of the worst teams in the league - to secure its berth.
Although Portland is just one point off the foot of the Western Conference, it has accumulated 25 of its 29 points at home. With a 7-4-4 record in Portland - compared with 0-11-4 on the road - the Timbers will be tough at home.