After dropping 2-0 to the New York Red Bulls on Saturday, D.C. United looks to recollect, recover and refocus as they head into the second week of their three-week road trip.
Despite a strong first half performance, United let up a deflating, early second-half goal in the 46th minute when Sasha Kljestan crossed a corner kick to Alex Muyl, who put the ball in the back of the net.
“We had a lot of good looks,” coach Ben Olsen said. “We did so much work in the first half to frustrate them and get them out of their comfort zone, and then to give that away that early in the second half hurts.”
However, United lost more than just the three points against the Red Bulls. Midfielder Nick DeLeon went down shortly after the first goal and had to be subbed out with a groin injury. United also lost captain Steven Birnbaum in the second minute of stoppage time with a head injury. Birnbaum will not play Saturday against the New England Revolution Saturday due to concussion protocol.
“He’s a touch groggy,” Olsen said. “We will go through all of the proper steps and get him back when the time is right.”
This is far from the first time a player on D.C. United has been concussed. As a player and coach, Olsen has seen several concussions in his career, but said it is a scary feeling every time.
“You feel sick,” Olsen said. “It is no different than when I was 12 and introduced to all of this stuff in sports. Unfortunately it is a part of it.”
Despite the setback, Olsen is confident in Birnbaum’s recovery and the team’s ability to perform without him.
“He will be fine,” Olsen said. “We will jump through every hoop and get him back as quickly, but more importantly, healthy.”
DeLeon is questionable for Saturday’s match, as well as midfielder Patrick Nyarko who did not travel with the team to New York last week due to a hamstring injury. DeLeon will get an MRI this week to evaluate some “hernia symptoms” and “lower ab stuff,” but Olsen said he is closer to a return than Nyarko because “hamstring stuff takes a little longer.
“The changes on one hand make it difficult, especially with injuries, but they also give opportunity,” Olsen said. “As difficult as it is not to have your ‘top XI,’ it is just opportunity to get guys experience throughout the season.”
A bright spot in the midst of all the injuries is the return of forward Patrick Mullins. Mullins went down with a hamstring injury against the Columbus Crew and subsequently missed the following three matches. He will be back in the lineup consideration Saturday, Olsen said.
“It is not great when they go out [due to injury], but when they come back in, it is nice to see,” Olsen said. “[His return] give them a little fresh energy to the group. It will be nice to have him for selection.”
In addition to the return of Mullins, United continues to count on their strong, youthful core midfield of Luciano Acosta, 22, Ian Harkes, 22, and defensive midfielder Jared Jeffrey, 26.
“There is a lot of ground being covered by all three of them,” Olsen said. “It is exciting to see young kids growing particularly in the same area of the field. We have a lot of piece, and we will continue to try to get better and keep pushing.”
United will have to fight through the recent string of injuries this Saturday when they travel to New England. United faces the Revolution Saturday, April 22 at 7:30 p.m.
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