Crucial stretch ahead for United

WASHINGTON -- After winning their first ever CONCACAF Champions League match on Tuesday, D.C. United have had a small but useful break before heading into a crucial stretch of games that will determine their fate on two fronts.With the 1-0 win against San Juan Jabloteh in Port of Spain, Trinidad, United now have a legitimate opportunity to advance to the knockout stage of the regional tournament with two of the remaining three games at home, including a return match with the now bottom-dwelling Trinidadian club.The team is in the midst of needing the rest to get people healthy and recharge some batteries and needing to find itself and develop a true identity. However, with recent changes in formation and the need to get results in any way possible, the current version of the team has taken on a look that might be unfamiliar to many of their supporters, opposition and even players."Right now we need to win games 1-0," said veteran midfielder Ben Olsen. "I think that's us and hopefully in the near future there is a game where we open the floodgates again. The way we have been defending together has been much better and our fight has been much better in the last four weeks or so and this is a big positive. If that is your starting point you always have a chance."With injuries to defenders Marc Burch and Dejan Jakovic and a propensity to give up too many chances and thus goals earlier on in the season, United coach Tom Soehn has decided to go primarily to four in the back. The results, though perhaps not pretty, have improved."There are times when you are scoring a lot of goals during the season and there are times when you are not. Right now we are not scoring a lot of goals but we are not leaking many either," said midfielder Santino Quaranta.The young but veteran midfielder has been in a slight statistical slump since May. He understands that it's time for the best players to start being the best players."This team has come from a lot of different places this year," he said. "I think we all really need to understand our role here. We have a lot of quality here but I think it is time for some of the veteran guys, like myself, to do better and do more. We all have to do better and it will come but we are getting to a critical time here.""At this point I don't think it's about you make this money, you make this money, you should be playing that well," added Olsen. "I think we should all take it upon ourselves, whether you make low money or big money and be the best you can be for this team. That's the goal. You can't say to someone, 'oh you make $40,000 so it's OK if you screw up and let down your teammates.' It's all of our responsibility as a team."Luciano (Emilio) is getting a lot of heat but I think he has played well as of late and for the last month he has been working really hard for us," he continued. "The goals will come and he is good enough to get those in and we need to do a better job of getting him better service and a bunch of other guys can step up, everyone is in a little bit of a drought."Much of the blame has fallen on Emilio, who has had an inconsistent season but still leads the team with nine goals, followed by Jaime Moreno and Christian Gomez with seven and six respectively, though five of Moreno's goals have come from the penalty spot.With the abundance of games over the last six weeks, and all three fighting off injuries at some point, the big three have rarely been used together, which has often left the attack stagnant and inconsistent.The irony of it all however, is that United are tied for second in the league in goals scored (39), two behind FC Dallas, who have reached that marker by scoring six goals twice in their last seven matches."We are probably in the top of the league in scoring so people keep talking about our goal droughts but if its anything we need to sure things up (in the back) but as the league goes on late in the year it's common that one-goal games are big so you need to put away your opportunities," Soehn said. "The important thing is that you have to create those opportunities and that is something that we've done, it's just finishing them.""There is a lot of negative stuff out there right now but we are committed to each other to block that stuff out and realize the situation isn't as bad as people are making it out to be," said Olsen. "We are still in a good spot both in the league (MLS) and the Champion's League and I think we are starting to understand what we are about as a team and that maybe we aren't as good as we thought we were so there is a lot of other areas that need to be picked up and that's team defense and fight."Soehn will need to deal with the delicate balance of resting players with building the continuity needed to get the results. Typically evasive as to his plans for the week, which include Thursday's home game against CD Marathon of Honduras followed by a league match against San Jose on Sunday, Soehn relishes the time off but also the opportunity for consistent training over the next week."I think more than anything we haven't been able to prepare for teams as well as we would like," said Soehn. "We've gone through a difficult stretch and a lot of that is not being able to prepare for teams like you want to and now we have a four-game stretch coming up that will seem pretty easy after what we've just been through. So depending on who is healthy and who is ready we will put out our best team."Soehn and his staff are steadfast in that training sessions matter and that is the basis for how they select their players each week factoring in rest and the strength and weaknesses of the team they are playing."The way we look to put things together week by week is by who is training the best and we haven't had that ability and now we will," he said. "That's all part of continuity is training together. I think our guys know that it's time to step up because every game is important; every game is like a playoff game."When you get into a week-by-week schedule, you have a lot more time to prepare. We have been in recovery mode. We are excited to get a little rest and come back to work on Monday and work on tactics and make sure we are all on the same page," he continued.He is also faced with the decision on how to approach that upcoming match with CD Marathon as they now have the hope of advancing to next year's final stage should they string some wins together."We got a chance now with the result last Tuesday so that throws another wrench into Tommy's world I'm sure and it's going to make him have another sleepless night," said Olsen."I think people around here are so used to us just walking through the league; there are other good teams out there and we need to realize who we are right now and what can we do in the next two months to make our team work the best," Olsen said. "To me, that's working very hard on pressuring the ball and being a very good defensive team and if we do get a few chances and if they are few and far between, let's do well with them."