As much as D.C. United are hoping for Saturday to be a banner night for the franchise – a day for the club to return to the playoffs for the first time in five years – coach Ben Olsen knows facing Columbus will present a more formidable test than have the team’s previous five opponents.
All five of those matches, during which United have gone 4-0-1 without the services of captain Dwayne De Rosario, were against teams with losing records. The Crew not only have a winning record, but will be fighting for their playoff lives. Throw in the fact that D.C.’s offense has scored four goals in four games and Olsen knows he must see improvement if United hope to celebrate in front of the expected sellout crowd at RFK Stadium.
“The focus has been on keeping [opponents to] zero goals,” Olsen said. “We’ve done a good job of that as of late, but we haven’t played a team with the quality that Columbus has in five games.
“We have to be better in a lot of aspects. Not only do we have to be better defensively, we have to be better offensively as well.”
Chris Pontius, the team’s captain in De Rosario’s place and leading scorer, agreed. “Obviously, I’d like to get the offense going a little bit more,” he said. “I think it’s part De Ro being out, where we’ve had to shuffle numbers in there, and also part sloppiness by me and some of the guys. I think we’re looking to be better at that this game.”
At various points throughout the season, United haven’t been the sharpest after returning from extended breaks. Most notably, a 4-0 loss against Houston after 14 days off at the beginning of July.
This time, Olsen and his side approached the international break a bit differently, and with more intensity than normal. “We’ve been through a lot of breaks this year, so we’re starting to fine-tune what we think is a good recipe for preparation,” Olsen said. “It was important for us to make sure we did some stuff on a bigger scale and mimic game situations to keep our minds sharp on what we’ll see on Saturday.”
United held 11 v. 11 sessions and varied drills in training to remain in proper form for Saturday’s big match. In games this year following six days of rest or more, United are 4-4-1. But playing with 10 days of rest of more, D.C. have a 3-1 record despite being outscored 6-3. This time, they’ll be working on 13 days of rest in preparation for the Crew.
“We’ve been pretty hard at training, trying to not [have the feel of] a two-week break because we really haven’t been good after two weeks the last half of the season,” left back Chris Korb said. “We tried to get some 11s in and I think we’ve looked sharp all week, so it’s good.”
On the mend
Captain Dwayne De Rosario, who has missed the last five matches with a grade III MCL sprain, was at the training fields Thursday doing some light jogging and dribbling. Defender Daniel Woolard (concussion) also was working out on the side along with forward Long Tan (ankle).
Center back Emiliano Dudar is back to full strength and training with the team as well as midfielder Raphael Augusto.