For the Black-and-Red, defense is critical. With standout center backs Steven Birnbaum and Frédéric Brillant, MLS veteran goalkeepers Steve Clark and David Ousted, and United’s 2017 Defensive Player of the Year Kofi Opare at the heart of the back line, the Black-and-Red are well-versed in defending. Leidos—the presenting partner of D.C. United—provides systems, solutions, and services covering air, land, sea, space, and cyberspace for Defense and Intelligence customers worldwide. Sponsored by Leidos, this weekly feature delves into some of the defensive storylines for United.
D.C. United have scored in all but one of their matches so far in 2018, with Darren Mattocks currently leading the Black-and-Red with three goals in five starts. A quick attack has remained part of the game plan over the course of United’s challenging road trip before opening Audi Field this summer, and as the old saying goes, sometimes the best defense is a good offense.
Playing on the road in MLS is difficult and for United, staying on the front foot early and often has been a key part of their strategy. As they embark on a grueling west coast trip starting Saturday in Salt Lake City, the team has emphasized regrouping and getting out on the attack.
“What’s in front of us now is a three game west coast road trip,” Head Coach Ben Olsen said. “I think we are all looking forward to it. Sometimes it’s good to get away.”
This weekend, the Black-and-Red will be facing a Real Salt Lake team that has had challenges of their own on the defensive side of the ball. Currently, RSL rank ninth in the Western Conference with a -9 goal differential, and have conceded 19 goals—the second most in the league. Though they have been strong at Rio Tinto Stadium (3-1-0), Salt Lake have struggled to defend their own net.
Of course, United will not enter Saturday's game underestimating their opponent.
Defensively, the Black-and-Red will focus on containing forward Joao Plata, who leads RSL with three goals. Plata has connected well with midfielder Albert Rusnák (two goals, two assists) to form the backbone of RSL’s attack so far this season.
And while Saturday's matchup and the extended travel out west will be a challenge for the visitors, the team knows what lies ahead of them and the discipline it will take to return to the District with points.
“We have to prepare ourselves very professionally,” midfielder Zoltán Stieber said. “We have to drink lots of water and rest professionally at the right times. I think everybody will do these things and I will try to do my best as well to be prepared.”
The west coast swing will be a challenge for the squad, but with Audi Field around the corner, United are excited to continue pushing forward.
"What we have ahead of us is seven games away,” Olsen said. “So let’s go. Let’s get after it in the right way.”