Players like Stephen King have a lot to gain heading into D.C. United's matchup against the New York Red Bulls on Saturday.
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DC focused on cutting out the mistakes

WASHINGTON – Last week’s close-run, back-to-back defeats to the Eastern Conference-leading Columbus Crew reminded last-place D.C. United that they are capable of competing with the league’s best.

But the ruthlessness shown by the defending Supporters’ Shield holders also underlined a basic MLS reality: Errors and missed opportunities will be punished.

Given that all but one of United’s seven remaining matches feature opponents in the thick of the playoff race, the Black-and-Red can expect to be handed that lesson over and over if they do not heed it, starting with Saturday afternoon’s visit to Toronto FC.

“We’ve made the same mistakes over and over and it’s time to start cutting out some of that stuff,” said interim head coach Ben Olsen this week. “Because, although yes, we’ve been unlucky and we’ve had injuries and we’ve got a million excuses that we can lean on, it’s still not what this is about right now.

“It’s still about us getting better and not feeling sorry for ourselves and continuing to push each other and make each other better.”

After last weekend’s 1-0 league loss to the Crew, Olsen described his team’s consistent inability to make – or prevent – big plays as “a broken record” and his players readily agree. Many decent DC performances have ended up as dispiriting defeats because of poor play in and around both penalty boxes.

“We often outplay teams from box to box,” said central midfielder Stephen King on Wednesday. “It’s just, in that final third we just need to get sharper and a little more hungry.

“At the end of the day, it’s just all about finishing our chances, and having that concentration in our own box to sniff things out and clear balls.”

A veteran side that plays with confidence at their BMO Field home, TFC certainly possess the quality to seize on any gaffes United may offer up. Olsen has alluded to the value of “difference-makers” such as Dwayne De Rosario and Julian de Guzman on the Reds’ roster and first-year head coach Preki has added a useful dose of steel to the team’s spine.

“We know they’re a team that’s going to battle,” said King. “With Preki as a coach, they’re a team that’s very physical. They’ve done very well this year, they’ve gotten results – especially at their field. It’s going to be a tough place to play.”

The Canadians are in desperate need of points as they hunt one of the final berths in the postseason. But United can counter that with a more freewheeling attitude that may help liberate what has often looked like a downtrodden team in recent weeks.