Do not call it a losing streak just yet. After dropping their last two games at home, D.C. United remains anxious, but not panicked about their future with Chicago Fire coming into town this weekend.
“The message is have some anxiety right now,” head coach Ben Olsen said. “That is ok. That is normal when you lose two in a row. We are also not the only team in this league that has lost two in a row. In fact, most of them have, so it is also not time to push the panic button.”
After a devastating 4-0 loss at home to the Philadelphia Union last week, United has moved down to the second to last team in the Eastern Conference just one point ahead of the Montreal Impact.
“Even if we try to dwell on things it usually doesn’t work,” Olsen said. “We are pretty short term in or memory. I think we will be able to put a lot of our energy and frustration into this weekend.”
But United will need a lot of energy to take down their next opponent at home before hitting a long road trip. After major offseason acquisitions like the German Bastian Schweinsteiger, Dax McCarty, and Juninho, the Fire is sitting comfortable in the top half of the MLS table with 18 points and back to back three-goal victories.
“Chicago is a very good team They are playing very well. I think they made a great bunch of great moves in the offseason and they are dynamic,” Olsen said. “We have to make sure we understand the active defending … and also be a little be better with our central midfield. Too many times we are on the wrong side in the center of the field and that can really make or break you”
Once again, United will have to pull from their depth to fill a hole left by a starter. The Union scored three goals last week after forward Luciano Acosta was sent off with a red card. Last week’s card means there is a big opening in the midfield.
“We tossed around a few different ideas,” Olsen said. “Some of the conversations are about how we can increase our output offensively, but some of it is also how we can deal with one of the better midfield combinations in the league. Thank is a tricky balance.”
With midfielder Rob Vincent still out with injury, Marcelo Sarvas, Jared Jeffrey and Ian Harkes will most like patch up the open spot.
“We will slowly get some guys back over the next few weeks, which will help us and then we are asking for more out of the players that are out there and more out of me and the coaching stay,” Olsen said. “We are not playing up to the standard that we can play to.”
United will have to also shift around once again in the backline. Sean Franklin (hamstring) is “moving along,” but did not train this week, according to Olsen. Nick DeLeon who spent minutes at right back this season is also not an option this weekend as he is still recovering from surgery.
That leaves a few options at right back for United. Last week captain defender Steven Birnbaum shifted from his normal role as centre back to right back, but switched back soon after United went down a goal. United SuperDraft pick Chris Odoi-Atsem, and United veteran Chris Korb are also both options. Korb played his first game back with United last week after almost two years due to a season-ending knee injury.
“We have Chris Odoi-Atsem who can play minutes out there and has some pace, and Korb. Those all continue to be options for us,” Olsen said. “With [Franklin] out and with [DeLeon] out, a guy like Korb, drafting a Guy like Odoi-Atsem, and potential [Birnbaum], that is why you build depth.”
Another option in the defensive zone is 17-year-old youth national player, Chris Durkin, will be in the 18-man roster for United Saturday against Chicago. The academy player has seen minutes with United’s USL affiliate Richmond Kickers as well as one game playing with United’s first team in the Open Cup match last summer against Fort Lauderdale Strikers.
The need to win is elevated with United’s recent point drought, but with the long season, Olsen said, now is still not the time to panic.
“In this part of the season, panic doesn’t enter anybody’s mindset,” Olsen said. “We have lost two in a row. That’s it. We have been really good in the past at responding after a loss. Simply, that is what I want to see this weekend. We aren’t talking about losing streaks.”
D.C. United completes a three-game home stretch Saturday, May 20, hosting Chicago Fire at 4 p.m. at RFK Stadium.
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