WASHINGTON – Following stints in Florida and California, D.C. United left for Charleston, S.C., on Thursday morning to play out the third and final leg of their preseason.
Over the next 10 days the team will train and play three games in their defense of the Carolina Challenge Cup, which they won in last year’s preseason. This will mark the sixth time DC have participated in the tournament, which is hosted by USL Pro team the Charleston Battery.
While there are several important things United need to accomplish prior to the season opener on March 19, one of those is to come away with a second straight tournament triumph.
“We’re going go into it looking to win the tournament because ultimately that’s why you play this game — to win,” midfielder Dax McCarty said.
Road Trip to First Kick
Starting March 6, join MLSsoccer.com’s Jackie Pickering and Nick Firchau as they travel from LA to Vancouver, checking in on all the West Coast teams, meeting with fans, and stopping into adidas HQ in Portland to pick up the game ball for First Kick on March 15 at Qwest Field.
Getting the offense clicking is perhaps the most pressing issue, and remains a work in progress. Much has been made of DC’s poor scoring record last season, and to help rectify the problem the club has brought in a stable of new forwards in Charlie Davies, Joseph Ngwenya and Josh Wolff.
“We’ve got a whole group of new guys,” head coach Ben Olsen said. “A lot of offense is rhythm, knowing each other, subtle little things that a lot of time, unfortunately, you can’t rush. You need to play with each other, figure out each other’s tendencies, that final ball has to be there. It isn’t easy to score goals.”
DC have played a majority of their preseason matches against non-MLS opposition, scoring almost at will against the Canada and Trinidad and Tobago U-20 teams. The lone match played against a league foe was last Friday, a 0-0 draw against Chivas USA.
After playing the Battery on March 5, DC will face the Chicago Fire on March 9 before closing the tournament against Toronto FC on March 11.
Facing two MLS clubs over this stretch is going to be vital as it will give DC a chance to identify ways to improve against the caliber of opposition they’ll face all year.
“It’s the most important because you can play college teams to get your confidence up, you can play European teams to get a little different competition,,” McCarty said, "but ultimately, you’re playing in MLS against MLS teams who are a little bit different than any other team around the world."
Last season proved that success in Charleston is no accurate indicator of how United will perform in the regular season, but the opportunity is there for Olsen to get a feel for which combinations work on the field — and which ones need more tweaking.
Though competition for starting spots continues, it's likely DC's first 11 will emerge from the Charleston trip. However, perhaps most importantly, the club should return home with a strong sense of what its identity might be in 2011, especially following an offseason with such a high turnover rate.
“It’ll be a final chapter in terms of getting us prepared in preseason — three very important games for us coming up,” McCarty said. “This is kind of where we forge our identity as a team, so for us it’s going to be very important."