WASHINGTON – Chances are that prior to the start of the season, neither D.C. United nor the New York Red Bulls expected Saturday’s clash at RFK Stadium (7 pm ET, watch on MLS Live) to be between the ninth- and seventh-place teams in the Eastern Conference, respectively.
But that’s the reality of the situation heading into a match that United are eager to play after a tough week at training.
On Tuesday, in particular, coach Ben Olsen challenged his leaders to step up and laid into the team a bit during the post-training huddle.
“I think that’s needed at times and I think at the time where he did step in, I think it was needed,” said United captain Dwayne De Rosario. “It was a good wake-up call.”
Added midfielder Chris Pontius: “These happen throughout the year. There are going to be training sessions where you’re yelled at. You’ve got to be a man about it and respond in the right way. I think that’s a huge key. You don’t go into a shell after something like that.”
With D.C. (1-3-1) sufficiently anxious to take the pitch – as if they needed further motivation beyond an Atlantic Cup battle against a team that controlled everything but the scoreboard in a 0-0 draw on March 16 – generating more offense will be paramount.
In five matches, United have scored twice. Having De Rosario presumably back in the mix after he missed last Friday’s match against Sporting Kansas City should help, as well as backing from what could be D.C.’s largest crowd of the season to date.
“When things aren’t going your way, you pinpoint everything and everything is magnified,” De Rosario said. “Definitely some things need to be addressed. Some things are just a little bit disappointing in terms of where we’re at. It’s coming from [Olsen] and it’s coming from us as players. But it’s good to see that fight and that desire to want to win. It’s good to see that fire and competitiveness within our group. I think it only creates a healthy environment.”
After having time to analyze tape from the last time United squared off against New York, center back Dejan Jakovic said one of the keys will be to limit Red Bulls midfielder Dax McCarty’s touches as well as to keep Thierry Henry in front of the backline.
READ: Q&A with Dejan Jakovic
Pontius, meanwhile, is hoping for better off-ball movement, something the club has been working to improve.
“Our movement as a whole team needs to be better,” said Pontius, who scored a hat trick against the Red Bulls last April at RFK. “Guys are just playing the ball and standing. We make it so easy to defend us.”