WASHINGTON – The San Jose Earthquakes visit RFK Stadium on Saturday to take on D.C. United in a contest between two clubs having starkly different seasons than they did a year ago.
For United coach Ben Olsen and his team – which have one win in 15 matches – matters have been difficult, to say the least.
“It’s not been an easy couple months, but the guys’ spirit doesn’t seem to be broken and they’re committed to fixing it, our staff’s committed to fixing it and the organization’s been patient,” Olsen said after Friday’s training session. “Going through times like this, it’s been a real learning experience for me. And I think [it's] a test of character through everyone involved in the organization – the players right on through to the fans.”
When United kick off Saturday (7 pm ET, watch on MLS Live), it will mark the first of five matches in 16 days, which includes next Wednesday's US Open Cup match against New England. Olsen and his players agreed it’s a challenge to balance the MLS slate and the importance the organization is placing on winning the Open Cup.
“It’s a bunch of games, but at this point you just have to win as many as you can,” said United midfielder Perry Kitchen. “Any win is important to us. It can definitely create confidence.”
As United’s season has spiraled downward, the pressure on the team to score has increased. In the club’s previous match against Toronto FC, Lionard Pajoy missed a chance to put United ahead 2-0, and later Casey Townsend sent a blast just wide. Every missed opportunity is magnified for a team that’s scored only seven goals all year.
“We’re not scoring a lot of goals, so when you get a chance, you try so hard to put it away and when you don’t, you’re thinking in the back of your head, ‘Am I going to get another one?’” Townsend said. “So there’s obviously pressure to score goals. We’re trying, everyone wants to score goals. We’re just going to keep at it.”
Midfielders Chris Pontius, Kyle Porter and captain Dwayne De Rosario all returned to training this week, but with so many matches coming up in a short period of time, Olsen likely won’t push players who aren’t fully healthy.
“It’s always a challenge to manage a lot of games, but through our injuries this year, we’ve used a lot of guys. And guys have done fairly well when they’ve been called upon,” Olsen said.
“Now we have a more experienced, deeper team that hopefully will help us through these next two weeks of a busy schedule.”