WASHINGTON — When D.C. United take the field Saturday night to face the San Jose Earthquakes (7:30 pm ET, watch LIVE online), they’ll be facing an opponent in a very similar spot.
While San Jose aren’t quite as young as DC, there are plenty of current parallels in the two sides: Both are on five-game unbeaten runs in league play, have improved after a poor stretch in April and are carrying identical 4-4-4 records into this weekend’s clash.
“In a lot of ways, they’re having success for some of the reasons we’re having successes,” DC coach Ben Olsen said. “The fight’s unbelievable with this team, and they’re concentrating at a high level.”
The Earthquakes will be coping without two of their main offensive weapons as Chris Wondolowski and Ryan Johnson are away on international duty, both playing in this summer’s Gold Cup. DC aren’t going to assume it’ll be an easier task with Wondolowski, San Jose’s top scorer and last year’s Golden Boot winner, unavailable.
“They still have some players that can hurt you,” midfielder Chris Pontius said. “They’re a gritty team, they fight and have [Steven] Lenhart up top, who is a handful.”
Lenhart, a robust and hard-working forward with a seemingly non-stop motor, will look to replace the offensive void left by the absences of Wondolowski and Johnson. The former Columbus Crew forward is going to be a challenge for United’s rookie back line, led by Perry Kitchen and Ethan White, to shut down.
One of the biggest obstacles for the visitors — aside from West Coast teams having a paltry 2-8-8 record on the East Coast — will be coping with the weather in the nation’s capital.
Hot and humid conditions are in the forecast after the region was bombarded with searing temperatures and humidity all week. It was so bad that on Wednesday, Olsen and the coaching staff canceled training outside and had an indoor session in the gym.
The evening kickoff will provide some respite for players on both sides, but DC will look to capitalize on being familiar with the heat.
“It’s hot and hopefully San Jose’s not prepared for it,” Pontius said. “We’ve been training in it. I wouldn’t say we’re used to it, because you don’t really get used to this humidity ever, but it’s very important for us to get the first goal.”
Playing at home for the first time in the league since May 21, DC’s desire is to get all three points as the team looks to improve their record at RFK Stadium this year.
“The expectation is always to win at home, especially with how we’ve been playing lately,” midfielder Dax McCarty said. “We’re a confident group [and] we’ve got some good results recently.”
Said Kitchen: “These are chances for us to move up the table and we need three points, especially at home.”
Travis Clark covers D.C. United, College and Youth soccer for MLSsoccer.com. Follow him on Twitter: @travismclark