The end of the season continues to get closer for the Black-and-Red. They have yet to clinch a playoff berth, sitting in fourth place a win would change all of that rather quickly. The Eastern Conference standings are so close that the first ranked Red Bulls are only six points ahead of the sixth place Impact. So all is not lost for D.C. However, they do need to get a result against in their next match on Friday.
“We’re in fourth place right now, a win moves us up if we get some results.” – Ben Olsen, D.C. United Head Coach
Since their loss to Montreal, which can be dubbed as the “Drogba” game. As much as a 2-0 loss may seem as a crushing defeat or a poor performance, that wasn’t the full story. United was able to create a few chances on goal, only they couldn’t capitalize. In their previous match against the Crew, they played very very well. A much better performance than the Montreal game, against Columbus Alvaro Saborio could have had three goals if he had converted just a few of his chances. In both of those matches, the backline of D.C. had to deal with two stellar forwards in Kei Kamara and Didier Drogba. Still, there were opportunities in the attacking third that could have changed the outcome of those games. Key moments in which the Black-and-Red just couldn’t finish the deal.
“I think they have faith in themselves, in each other and it’s still about showing up on Friday night.” – Ben Olsen
As always, when a team is going through some tough times, the question of whether to make changes is brought up. There’s several factors for a coaching staff to consider when making changes to the starting lineup or rotation no matter the sports. “Also managing emotions, what’s rash and what’s best for the group right now” said head coach Ben Olsen. It’s always something that coaches have to gauge and sometimes an emotional move is a good one and sometimes sticking with the plan is the right move too. That’s stuff we’re all weighing, what the group is that will help us succeed from the start on Friday.” That’s why it may be better to leave it be and focus on tightening up the little things, specifically the areas in which the team is struggling with. In the attack, it could be that final pass in the attacking third. Or even the final touch on a possession, that played a big role in their last two games whether i was Sabo or Chris Rolfe in front of the net. Sabo had a couple of 1v1 chances with keepers and just had a poor final touch.
“I’m excited to get back home, I think these guys are. I think it’s a big stage and I think we still have a lot of faith in this group.” – Ben Olsen
“The game in Montreal, it’s 2-0 before you know it. Now you’re chasing and having to get out of your comfort zone.” Olsen has a great point, surrendering early goals has led to his team not being able to play at their tempo or pace. They’ve had to get away from what they do best to play from behind, they are an incredible counter attacking team when firing on all cylinders. United has yet to find that consistent quality attack outside of the counter attack, which puts them in a huge hole when having to go full attack. As a defensive team by nature, it’s hard for those types of teams to “force” the attack. It has to come naturally and at their pace and tempo, otherwise the attack struggles a bit.
When I was watching the Columbus game, the unity between each line from defense to midfield to attack was special. It was by far United’s most complete game of the season from an attacking standpoint, unfortunately they just couldn’t make the most of their numerous chances. “Going back to the Columbus game, I thought we were dynamic I thought we had a good night from an idea standpoint from the buildout, got enough crosses in.” Olsen shared these thoughts when discussing the differences between that game and the Montreal game. In brief stretches, United has shown that their attack has rather sharp teeth despite what Olsen deemed a “toothless attack” against the Impact. The challenge for the Black-and-Red if they’re able to right the ship and clinch a playoff spot, is to make the attack consistent. It’s definitely the little things, but the failure to do so has affected them mightily in their past five games which has left them without one win to show for it.
“It’s going to take everybody, that’s the staff and players to have a good night” said Olsen. “We’re capable of that, I don’t see why it shouldn’t be this Friday.” So while saying Friday’s match against New York City FC is a “must-win” may seem as a stretch, it’s an incredibly big game for a team that’s been struggling. D.C. has to get out of this funk and regain the form that had them atop the league earlier this season. They’re just a bit off, but that small margin of error looms large as the drought has grown each week.