Five. That is the number of games left in the regular season for the Black-and-Red, the Eastern Conference tables have gotten very congested as several teams are just within a result of each other. Back-to-back losses could take a team that is comfortably in the playoffs to the brink, or a team that is on the break to the outside looking in. This makes every remaining game down the stretch pivotal, a loss can be accepted, but losses could be the kiss of death. The Columbus Crew come to the nation’s capital to face United at RFK, they trail the home team by just one point in the standings.
“Our focus now is to improve each week, over the next two months to put ourselves in the best position possible for the playoffs.” – Ben Olsen, United Head Coach
Coach Olsen made it clear that DCU isn’t worried about the standings or the specific seedings, focusing on getting better each day. The current situation could be seen as a negative in terms of the results over the last five games or so, in addition to United no longer being in first place (they’re now in third). That’s not the lens in which Olsen is viewing things, “To me we’re on the upswing”. It could be a surprise to some, but there is merit in that sentiment. United has been far from healthy all season, they are currently at possibly the healthiest their roster has been all year. With their type of depth, that can only be seen as a positive. Secondly, they haven’t put together their best 90 minutes yet. There’s been several games in which they’ve dominated for a half or 70 minutes, but there is a feeling that this team hasn’t reached it’s peak yet. Their two star forwards have yet to play three consecutive games together, Saborio and Espindola have shown how electric they are in flashes. Unfortunately, it was for just two games. Tonight’s game will be just the second time this season, the dangerous goal scoring duo will be on the field together in back-to-back games.
As for that rough patch last month, “Went through a tough stretch there” said Olsen. “I think you could argue that it comes at a good time and now, our focus is to continue to build off the Colorado game.” The Black-and-Red surrendered an unlucky goal against the Rapids last week, they responded with an equalizer in the 85th minute. Even though they started slow, there were stretches in that game where they were sustaining possession and building solid attacks that resulted in quality chances and shots. As coach mentioned, there is definitely something to build off of.
“I’m just trying to take care of my body as much as possible. Stay as strong as possible mentally and physically and just perform to the best of my abilities.” – Bill Hamid, United goalkeeper
It’s well known that D.C. has shuffled their lineups many times this season, as a team they’ve suffered multiple injuries. Bill Hamid was one of those players as he missed nine games this season and had in-season surgery. He wouldn’t allow the multiple lineups serve as an excuse for the team struggling to gain consistency. “I just think we need to keep pounding away and try to help the next guy. We have to take care of the ball, we have to move for each other, we have to stay disciplined and stick together defensively. I think that once we just implement those ideas into our game, we’re going to be fine.”
Partnerships. It’s a word that has been used by mostly every member of the team this season and multiple times by coach Olsen. Hamid gave me a few minutes of his time yesterday and elaborated on the partnerships and how important it would be not only for the remainder of the regular season, but for the postseason. The outstanding keeper also touched on why it’s important to get in a rhythm heading into the postseason, especially as the game evolves once the regular season ends. “It’s all about gaining a rhythm, the playoffs are going to be high paced adn the energy is going to be something that a lot of guys haven’t seen yet, on this team. So we have to gain as much rhythm all around the field, all the partnerships. Midfielders to defenders, midfielders to forwards, from goalkeeper to defenders. All the partnerships have to be as sound as possible, especially in this stretch of the season.”
It’ll definitely be something to keep an eye on as the regular season comes to a close, to see if the Black-and-Red can indeed do just that, get in a rhythm. They’ll have a task ahead of them as the Crew come to town, they have the league’s top goal scorer in Kei Kamara (20 goals). In the first matchup between these teams earlier this season, United was able to get a 2-0 result thanks to Espindola having a hand in both goals scored that day (goal, assist).
Tonight’s game will be different as the first matchup was back in May, both teams are in a different place. One thing that hasn’t changed is the matchup between one of the league’s best scorers trying to get one by arguably the league’s best net-minder. Obviously there’s quite a few players that play a role in that as it’s not just 1v1.
The battle in midfield will be intriguing, especially with Crew respect of D.C’s defense. Columbus hopes to control the tempo and aims to unlock the United defense by changing the tempo in which they operate. That’s where the game will be one, it’s not just Kamara to worry about. Fedirico Higuain is a handful as well, he may be their primary playmaker.
The question on everyone’s mind is how much stress that the United attack will cause the Crew defense. How many partnerships will be created amongst the D.C. attack. As stated earlier, they haven’t been rolling on all cylinders yet this season. It means getting the ball up to Sabo and Fabi and them holding it up so that the wings (Rolfe, DeLeon) can make runs behind the line to create quality attacks.