Olsen preaches commitment as United return to Houston

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WASHINGTON – Directing two-touch drills during Thursday morning’s training session near RFK Stadium, D.C. United coach Ben Olsen gently reminded his players that they are 0-for-Houston.

In seven previous attempts, United are 0-6-1 against the Dynamo on the road and have been outscored 13-4.

“You have to be committed to win as a group in Houston. There’s no other way to win there,” Olsen said at the training session, which focused largely on defense. “We need to use the entire field against these guys. Really stretch the width.”

Sunday’s match at BBVA Compass Stadium (9 pm ET, Galavision) is significant for both clubs. D.C. haven’t played a game since June 30, while Houston will kick off a three-game, seven-day homestand that includes matches against Sporting Kansas City and Montreal.

“I think it reminds us how tough a place it is to play and what a big challenge it is. Sometimes when you have a big challenge like that, it really galvanizes the group,” Olsen said.

United enter the match tied for first place in the Eastern Conference with Sporting KC. The Dynamo, eight points back, have posted back-to-back clean sheets and haven’t lost a home match since June 18, 2011, a span of 16 games.

They also boast Designated Player Boniek Garcia, who wasn’t with the Dynamo for the clubs’ previous encounters this year.

“They have a new player that’s a handful, but ultimately they still have the same mentality as the Houston teams have had,” said Olsen, whose team has won four of its last five. “They fight very hard and they’re great on set pieces. They’re a committed group.”

Tactically, Houston have shifted to a 4-3-3 since the teams last met in May and the formation switch has produced favorable results in the defensive end.

“We wouldn’t say it’s make-or-break, but we know how important this game is. I think we’re ready for the challenge,” said United midfielder Danny Cruz, who spent his first three years in MLS with the Dynamo.

The Texas heat appeared to drain D.C. toward the end of May’s 1-0 loss. Sunday’s forecast calls for a high of 91 degrees with a low of 76 and scattered thundershowers possible. But even if the temperatures do spike into the 100s, United feel better-prepared this time from rigorous training in the recent East Coast heat wave.

“I think the weather in D.C. has been a little unusual, but it has been good to get us prepared for that kind of humidity and that kind of heat,” said United defender Robbie Russell. “This time of year, when we have this sort of lull in the schedule, three points are huge and I think most teams understand that.”