WASHINGTON – Wearing a black pullover, black dress shirt and gray checkered tie – coordinating perfectly with the “Blackout” at RFK Stadium on Saturday night – an unexpectedly upbeat Ben Olsen made one point clear while addressing the media following D.C. United’s 1-1 draw against New York in the first leg of their playoff series: The Red Bulls are a beatable team.
Twice in roughly 10 minutes, the D.C. United manager uttered the phrase “they’re a beatable team” and twice he said “we should have won that game.”
His sentiments were firmly seconded in the locker room by his players as United felt as though they should be headed to Wednesday night’s second leg at Red Bull Arena (8 pm ET, NBC Sports Network) with the aggregate goals advantage.
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Still, despite the club’s road struggles this season and big-game inexperience, D.C. United appeared to believe in themselves now more than ever.
“I’m looking forward to our guys being tested, going to Red Bull [Arena] and trying to get a result. It’s going to be a great opportunity,” Olsen said.
None of the players in D.C. United’s starting XI had played in a playoff game with the club and only two had ever competed in the MLS postseason before Saturday (Brandon McDonald and Marcelo Saragosa). But Olsen and his captain, Chris Pontius, insisted that inexperience was not to blame for the draw.
“Did you see any inexperience out there tonight?” Pontius fired back when asked about the team’s youth. “I thought we played pretty well. The guys are ready. They’re juiced for the game on Wednesday.”
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Indeed, D.C. United did create the better chances, providing good reason for the squad to be excited about next week’s match.
In the opening two minutes United won three corners and even after dropping to 10 men when right back Andy Najar was sent off in the 71st for throwing the ball at the referee, D.C.’s attack still generated opportunities.
Instead of coming away from Saturday’s match in front of 17,556 black-clad supporters with a sense of self-doubt or a sense of worry given the tall task that awaits them to win on the road with the season on the line, United’s players were nothing but confident.
“I think we learned that we’re feisty, we’re fierce and we gained a lot of confidence off this game,” United goalkeeper Bill Hamid said. “[The Red Bulls] have a lot to worry about next game.”
Nick Cammarota covers D.C. United for MLSsoccer.com.