If Saturday’s match against the New England Revolution feelslike the last mile in a marathon, that’s because – for a D.C. United team thathas endured Major League Soccer’s most demanding schedule through the openingmonths of the 2012 campaign – it is.
But despite the Black-and-Red’s early success, Ben Olsen hasno interest in watching his team limp across the finish line this weekend.
“When you start having a little bit of success the tendencyis to turn it down a little bit,” Olsen said after practice on Thursday. “Unfortunately the teams that come inand play you turn it up. We haveto make sure that we keep getting better and make sure that our mentality isstill one of hunger and aggression.”By the end of the weekend D.C. will have played 15 matchesthrough the first 11 weeks of the MLS season, a total matched across the leagueby only FC Dallas. The slammedslate hasn’t hurt D.C. in the standings, but it has taken a toll on United’splayers. Nearly a dozen havemissed time as injuries like muscle strains – which often coincide with anincreased workload – have run rampant through Olsen’s dressing room.
“That’s what the team is focusing on now,” said rookie NickDeLeon, who is recovering from a left hamstring strain. “Getting a result on Saturday and thengetting all these injured guys healthy for the summer games.”
Following Saturday’s contest with New England, D.C. won’tplay another league match until they travel to Philadelphia on June 16. Next Tuesday’s U.S. Open Cupaffair with the third-division Richmond Kickers – and any further Open Cupdates if D.C. advances – should keep United sharp but, with such a longMLS-layoff looming, a disappointing result over the weekend would do majordamage to the momentum built over the club’s 7-4-3 start.
“No one wants to go out and lose this game and sit on ourbutts for a couple weeks and think about it,” admitted midfielder ChrisPontius. “We’ve done well with howwe’ve played at home and we are looking to continue that on Saturday.”
Regardless of what awaits them this weekend, D.C.’s playersare keenly aware that the end of this brutal stretch is more like a mile-marker than a finish line.
“We are still at the beginning of the race,” laughed forwardMaicon Santos, playing along with the marathon analogy. “We are not at theend yet, there is still a long way to go.”