Throughout much of the 2012 campaign, going on the road for D.C. United was easy to predict: tough opponents in tough environments. With one of the hardest away schedules in the League, including multiple cross-country flights, long days in airports, and living out of hotel rooms, finding good road form has been tough to come by this season for the Black-and-Red (4-9-2 away from RFK Stadium).
As the season has started to wind down and securing points on the road has become increasingly important, the tide has begun to turn for the once road-wary Black-and-Red.
You can chalk up the successes to many things both home and away, but as someone who travels to every away game with the team, there have been a few things done differently on the road over the past few weeks than throughout the rest of the season.
A day on the road for D.C. United is very segmented, with multiple meetings, team functions and team meals at the hotel.
Head Coach Ben Olsen, admittedly superstitious himself, decided to change things up a bit while in Salt Lake City. “At this point in the season, you have to keep it fresh a little bit,” said Olsen. “We have been with each other so much – too many meetings, too many dinners together, and it gets to be a little bit much.” Instead of a usual team dinner in a hotel banquet room catered with fresh fish, grilled chicken, pasta, and vegetables, the team and staff walked down the road for a big Italian dinner. While the result didn’t fall in United’s favor, the team played very well and could very well have earned a point – or even three in a very difficult environment.
Things again were changed the following match on 9/20 when the team traveled to Philadelphia. Instead of wearing the traditional black polo and pants or shots, players and staff were given the freedom to wear a grey D.C. United t-shirt and black jacket. Later that night, instead of the usual team dinner, players were given the opportunity to get meals wherever they pleased. Some stayed in, some visited with former teammate Danny Cruz, and some went out to a nice meal. The result? A big 1-0 win at PPL Park.
Again, things changed in Portland. It was back to the norm – probably a good decision after a cross-country flight. The result? A 1-1 draw in one of the toughest places to play in the League.
“I’m superstitious in terms of putting on my right shoe first, praying at the exact same times, knocking on wood when someone says certain things,” said United goalkeeper Bill Hamid, who is leading the League with a 78% saves percentage. While Hamid is obviously superstitious, he’s not sure if these changes have had any real effect – you decide.
As the team heads north for a big game against last place Toronto FC, things will undoubtedly be changed to keep players fresh mentally. Let’s hope the results keep coming in and the Black-and-Red inch one step closer to a playoff berth with another win in Toronto.
D.C. United takes on Toronto FC at 1:00 PM ET this Saturday, October 6. Watch on CSN and follow Twitter updates and the fan conversation here on dcunited.com.