WASHINGTON – When D.C. United take the field Saturday against Real Salt Lake in their home opener (7 pm ET, watch LIVE online), it will be one day shy of a year since the last time Ben Olsen’s club lost at RFK Stadium.
The team’s mission last season, in addition to making the playoffs for the first time in five years, was simple: take back RFK. And as the players prepare for their first home contest on what is expected to be a sunny, pleasant day in the nation’s capital, they’re hoping to replicate the success they had last year playing on East Capital Street.
“We took back RFK, obviously that was the goal,” said defender Dejan Jakovic. “Obviously, I think home advantage is important in this league. There’s something about RFK, looking up and seeing our fans jumping up and down and cheering us on for 90 minutes definitely gives us a spark.”
Last year, following a season-opening loss to Sporting Kansas City, United didn’t lose any of their next 16 matches and recorded the most home points in the league in 2012 (40). D.C. also scored 69.8 percent of their goals at RFK (37 of 53) last year.
Following Thursday’s training session, Olsen tried to pinpoint what made United so dangerous at home.
“I think we were aggressive, I think our concentration was high and once you get on a little bit of a streak at home, confidence is very high,” he said. “I think it was a good year in that sense and we’re looking again to make sure that the fans are rewarded when they come out and pay for tickets here.”
Having said that, is there any reason United wouldn’t be able to duplicate that sort of success?
“There’s a whole bunch of reasons,” Olsen said. “But we’re looking to protect our home field. That’s for sure. It’s crucial for making playoffs. Road games are getting tougher in this league and I think the league overall is very consistently good right now. I don’t think there’s many weak teams, so you’ve gotta try to do the job at home."
In addition to being able to work on a wider pitch than they faced in a 2-0 season-opening loss in Houston, United could be aided by fact that Salt Lake have never won at RFK, going 0-4-3 in seven trips. D.C. will, however, be without the services of captain Dwayne De Rosario, who will serve the second of his two-game suspension for his actions in a preseason match against Philadelphia.
“We’re a good team here at RFK,” said midfielder Nick DeLeon. “I’ve got all the faith in the world in our team at RFK. It’s a big field. We can spread the ball out and it’s a lot easier to keep possession. Here we have more space to play, so I think we’ll be fine.”