DC United trying to rekindle spark for five-game stretch

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WASHINGTON – With two trades in seven days, it’s clear D.C. United are searching to rekindle the spark that carried the club atop the Eastern Conference at the end of June.

Injuries, a sporadic mid-summer schedule and a lack of goals have derailed a once-dominant campaign as United currently rest in fifth place in the East, three points ahead of Montreal for the final playoff spot. Losers of four of their previous six matches, United are hoping an upcoming stretch of five games in 14 days will provide a lift to both the team’s execution and position in the standings.

After all, it worked the first time.

“I think it is good for us,” said United captain Dwayne De Rosario. “It gives us the opportunity to start banging games out. I think when we had a nice little stretch [earlier in the year], we were playing under that rigorous schedule, so to go back to that same environment we were playing is good for us. We’re looking forward to that.”

Between the Lines: Forward thinking in D.C.

From late April to mid-May, United played six matches in 21 days and went 4-2-0, outscoring opponents 13-9. During that period, D.C. won all three games at RFK Stadium. This time, albeit more condensed than before, United also will play three pivotal matches at home (Philadelphia, Chicago and New York) that will go a long way toward determining whether D.C. will break its four-year postseason drought.

While the uptick in intensity will be a given – training sessions were closed to the media Thursday, Friday and Saturday – the health status of some key players isn’t. De Rosario, Hamdi Salihi, Maicon Santos, Daniel Woolard and Robbie Russell all missed United’s 2-1 loss against Kansas City and coach Ben Olsen seemed unsure about when each would return

Speaking after training Wednesday, De Rosario seemed confident he would play Sunday against Philadelphia (5 pm ET, NBC Sports Network, live chat on MLSsoccer.com), but regardless, this is a bad time for multiple injuries confounding the starting 11.

“We have to just keep a level mind about it. We have to approach it with all seriousness and be focused from here on out,” said United goalkeeper Bill Hamid. “It’s a tough stretch, we have five games in not a lot of time, so we have to maintain our bodies right, approach the games the right way, get the results and climb up the ladder.”

Despite recent struggles, United have only lost once at home and that was in their first game of the season. They also, at the conclusion of Sunday’s games, will have two matches in hand on Kansas City, Houston and New York – all sides ahead of D.C. in the standings.

“We know what long stretches can do. They’re crucial,” said United center back Brandon McDonald. “We all have to stay the course, whether it’s hydration, fitness, taking care of your body, proper sleep, nutrition. That all plays into what we have to do to stay focused.”