Tight locker room a catalyst for DC's surprising success

D.C. United players celebrate a goal

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WASHINGTON – New owners with visions of global branding? Tied for the Eastern Conference lead in mid-July? A 15-day break between matches?

It’s a good time to be D.C. United.

Following Tuesday’s training, noise from a boisterous locker room could be heard reverberating through the hollow hallways at RFK Stadium. Call it just another day behind closed doors with one of the tightest teams in the league.

“You can tell this team is a little bit more close-knit than most teams are,” defender Robbie Russell said. “A lot of times I’ll go onto teams and there will be cliques, often based around age group. But there are so many young guys here and fewer older guys that the older guys are forced to mingle a little bit. I think that makes a big difference as far as the locker-room dynamic goes.”

Russell, who played four years with Real Salt Lake before joining United in the offseason, mans the backline with Brandon McDonald, who recently tweeted the following about the team's penchant for locker room pranks:

“This lockr room is CRAZy!! FROZEN underwear! Guys walking out sHIRTLESS! Sleeves bein cut off shirts! ‪#unbelievable!! ‪#letthegamesbegin!!”

D.C. United are winners of four of their previous five matches and enter a crucial stretch of the schedule where three of the next four games are on the road.

“When things are going well, most teams are in good spirits,” Olsen said. “But even through our tough times this year, it has been a pretty good group. We talk about responding through some hiccups and they’ve done a good job of that. Hopefully it will continue.”

Like the locker-room unity, Olsen’s coaching style lends itself to inspired play. Frequently Olsen – the youngest full-time coach in MLS history – will toss on a training pinny and run through drills with his players, shouting compliments or advice throughout.

“When he’s in a good mood, it’s great. When he’s in a crappy mood, it’s awful,” Russell said. “So that comes with its goods and bads. I think it reverberates a lot with the younger guys. It’s a lot more personal feel and sometimes they don’t feel like they’re getting lost in the cracks. It’s a great atmosphere.”

And an atmosphere that fans in the District haven’t seen much of since, well, the days when Olsen helped D.C. win their last pair of Supporters’ Shields from a much different vantage point.

“This is my club,” Olsen said. “Any time we as a club get to move forward in any way, I’m front and center cheering. This club has meant a lot to me for a long time. I’m pumped about the whole situation.”