WASHINGTON – One of the leading contributors to D.C. United’s start this season has also been one of the biggest surprises: the club’s poor play at RFK Stadium.
Coming off a year in which the team went 12-1-4 on its home pitch, United have lost three of their first four home matches. And with four home games in May and an urgent need to start climbing the table in the Eastern Conference, Wednesday’s game against Houston (7 pm ET; Free Stream on MLSsoccer.com) is critical not only for D.C.’s playoffs hopes, but their psyche as well.
“In the position that we’re in we can’t be giving away points like that at home, especially when we made such a big stride last year in taking RFK back,” United midfielder Chris Pontius said. “We went into every game knowing, ‘Alright, listen, we’ll get three points here. Worst comes to worst, we’ll get a point, but no one’s walking out of here with three points.’
“Obviously it hasn’t been that way this year for us, so it’s frustrating in that sense.”
Pontius, who missed United’s most recent match against Columbus with a groin injury and is questionable for Wednesday’s game, said that the team’s confidence when stepping onto the field at RFK has waned a bit this season.
“We need to get back that mentality and confidence about us that when we step on the field we know what we’re going to do, we’re going to take care of business here,” Pontius said. “And we haven’t necessarily felt that this year. That needs to come back.
“I think people underestimate how big of a thing confidence is in this sport, but we need to find it this year with this group.”
During his time as United’s coach, Ben Olsen has guided D.C. to an 18-14-12 regular-season record at RFK. Currently, though, in addition to tightening his unit’s overall level of play, he has focused on cleaning up his team’s set-piece defense in an effort to break a five-match losing streak.
“We’ve given up seven goals on set pieces. If you do that, you’re going to find yourself in last place out of eight games,” Olsen said following Tuesday’s rainy training session.
Added midfielder Perry Kitchen: “It’s just being focused. It’s man-to-man. You just have to be strong. We’ve given up seven this year. It’s something we have to sharpen up. We’ve worked on it a lot, so I think it will be better.”