Feature photo courtesy of Tony Quinn.
By Emily Olsen
For the first time in what seems like months, D.C. United has had a full week to breath in between games. The next test comes Sunday against a familiar opponent.
United faces Orlando City SC for the third time this season. During a very strenuous three weeks, United went 3-1-3 in seven games.
“We’ve had a few days to get away from each other,” coach Ben Olsen said after training Friday. “The energy was great today and I think everyone is looking forward to playing in a match again.”
On Friday, the team practiced in 93-degree weather, just a preview of what the temperature will be like in Orlando on Sunday. United will have to beat the heat and the versatile Orlando City forward Kaká in order to take home the three points. D.C. faced a similar forward last week in the 2-1 loss to Toronto FC. The Italian forward Sebastian Giovinco scored both of the goals for Toronto and exposed holes in United’s defense.
“Its simple. We went into the game trying to limit Giovinco’s influence and that didn’t go so well,” Olsen said after the game on Saturday.
Giovinco found openings in the back line to put two impressive balls by goalkeeper Andrew Dykstra, who was playing for the injured Bill Hamid. Like Giovinco, Kaká has the ability to terrorize United’s defense, whether by shooting or providing opportunities for teammates.
“He’s smart, he’s clever. He’s gifted technically,” midfielder Davy Arnaud said Friday after training. “You can’t take a player like that out of the game completely because they are going to have their moments, but you have to limit it.”
Having faced Kaká and Orlando twice before, Arnaud said the team knows how to control Kaká’s scoring chances.
“We are always talking about where he is,” Arnaud said about shutting down Kaká. “If the ball gets to him, we are getting to him as quick as we can.”
Kaká and Giovinco are both players with impressive resumes, playing for their respective countries (Brazil and Italy) as well as other distinguished clubs like Real Madrid and Juventus.
“Coaches and players have been trying to stop them since they were six years old,” Olsen said ahead of Sunday’s match. “They made a living off of finding holes and finding ways to exploit defenses.”
United does not have an international superstar that is at the same level as Kaká or Giovinco, but it does have a secret weapon of its own – depth.
“For me this is one of the deepest teams I’ve been on,” Arnaud said. “I don’t know many teams that could put out 14 different line ups and still be in first place.”
In the last seven games, United has had a different starting 11 every game. Olsen repeated players in the lineup, but the team looked different in each match. A string of injuries and a stretch of tough games have allowed D.C. to exploit that depth.
“It certainly put us where we are right now,” Olsen said. “It will be tough to pick a starting 11 in the second half of the season.”
The team has not been at full strength during the last two months physically. The latest group of injuries includes defender Chris Korb, midfielder Chris Pontius, and goalkeeper Bill Hamid. They all trained on Friday. When the team is completely healthy, Olsen will have to begin to settle on a consistent starting 11 and some guys will not be happy with not starting because several players are the caliber to be a starter said Arnaud. Competition does not hurt, but helps, the deep United squad.
“If there is not that competition, you can fall into complacency. It raises your level every single day because you are playing with pressure.” Arnaud said. “I had a coach tell our group one time, several years back, that you’d prefer to be a guy on the bench of a first place team fighting to get into a good team than a guy that’s not playing on a bad team.”
United currently sits atop the Eastern Conference and is chasing the Seattle Sounders in the race for the Supporters Shield. D.C. will face an Orlando City team that is currently on a four-game unbeaten streak. Orlando has climbed to fourth in the Eastern Conference as they look to continue their streak. Sunday’s match is set for 7 p.m. on Fox Sports 1.
“Our focus is continuing offensively with what we have been doing,” Olsen said. “Getting back to bailing each other out and doing the little things that have made us a tough team to break down.”
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