WASHINGTON — Reflecting on the fact that come Saturday evening, he will have coached matches against Chelsea and Paris Saint-Germain in the same week, D.C. United coach Ben Olsen grinned.
“All I can think about is Columbus,” he said on Friday, referring to next weekend’s home tilt against the Crew. “That’s the crazy thing about this. That’s where the job takes you. Our focus is still on our season and how we go about making the playoffs.”
Which is why Olsen — who coached the MLS All-Stars to a 3-2 victory against Chelsea on Wednesday — plans on approaching Saturday’s Herbalife World Football Challenge game (kickoff at 7:30 pm ET, tape delay on FOX Soccer at 10 pm ET) against the French Ligue 1 powerhouse with notable intensity.
“We’ve got to go after this and use this as a real game and an exercise to get us better right now,” Olsen said. “We need games. You can train and play 11 v. 11, but it’s not the same. We need to get in that mode of playing each week.”
July has been unusual for United, to say the least. D.C. have played two road games (both shutout losses), have dropped from first to fourth in the standings, and have spent 28 of the month’s 31 days either training, scrimmaging or taking time off.
Now they will finish up the month against one the world’s elite sides, who have spent millions on players this off-season, including acquiring superstars Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva. Ibrahimovic is expected to play 40-45 minutes against United.
“They’re obviously a world-class side and they’re going to be a team to be reckoned with,” D.C. midfielder Lewis Neal said. “We’re going to have to work our socks off to try and stay with them.”
Added Olsen: “They’re pretty impressive. They’ve got a lot of ideas out there. A lot of guys that are special on the ball. It’s a fun team to watch.”
PSG were certainly that in their 1-1 friendly draw with Chelsea last Sunday at Yankee Stadium in New York. Beyond Ibrahimovic, they are also led by such world-class talents as Javier Pastore, Nene, and Ezequiel Lavezzi.
“I think it’s obviously going to be a tough one. I expect [PSG] to challenge for a Champion’s League trophy,” said D.C. United forward Chris Pontius, who was named MVP of Wednesday’s All-Star Game after scoring a goal against Chelsea. “We’ve got to be organized and pick when to go against them.”
Normally, one would think Olsen might use the friendly to find playing time for some of United’s lesser-used players. But speaking Friday after training, it seemed as though Olsen planned to push his starters, a good preparation for D.C.’s critical home match against Columbus on August 4.
“Especially with the last few games, we’ve struggled,” Pontius said. “We’ve got to start putting it together. If you can do it against PSG, you can do it against anyone in our league.”