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Grueling campaign nears the end for United

Olsen's group tries to stay focused on Chicago rivalry

WASHINGTON --- After seven months, 19 painful league losses and 36 overall games, there are only two matches left in D.C. United’s grueling 2010 campaign.

The season’s cumulative physical and psychological toll tends to weigh most heavily on players in these final stages, so interim coach Ben Olsen has emphasized the importance of concluding 2010 with diligence and focus, starting with Saturday’s visit to Chicago.

“It’s a tough spot for everybody right now,” Olsen said. “You’ve got two more weeks in a season that hasn’t gone well at all, and I’ve asked the guys and the staff, and myself, to all make sure we’re seeing this out, not cutting corners, and making sure we’re doing the right thing for the next two weeks.

“As the [end of the] season approaches, it always gets a little easier to throw in the towel and I want to make sure – myself included – we’re holding ourselves accountable and doing what’s best for the team.”

After fielding a barebones side against San Jose last week, Olsen will have substantially improved lineup options on Saturday. Everyday starters Julius Jones, Dejan Jakovic and Andy Najar return from international callups and yellow-card suspension, respectively.

United have also won two of their last three road games

“We’d like to end on some positive results,” Olsen said Thursday. “We’ve got some guys back now and hopefully we’re able to continue what has been, recently, a good away form.”

D.C. and the Fire have little to play for at this stage aside from pride and professionalism, although the history between the teams suggests that it could be an intense encounter nonetheless. Thanks to many hard-fought, high-stakes meetings over the years, there’s traditionally been little love lost between the two Eastern Conference foes.

Still, 2010 marks the first time since the Fire’s inception in 1998 that neither Chicago or D.C. will compete in the postseason.

“They’re a good, quality team. They have a lot of veterans on their team, they know what it takes to win,” United defender Jed Zayner said. “This is the first year [they’ve missed the playoffs] in a while.

“It’s going to be a hard-fought game. They’re playing for a lot of pride, as we are, so it’s going to be a scrappy game.”