WASHINGTON – D.C. United seem to have caught one of Major League Soccer’s most contagious and peculiar ailments: schedule congestion.
Two games into a seven-game month of August, D.C. are already beginning to feel the three principal effects of the ailment: exhaustion, frustration and susceptibility to injury.
After dropping their first two matches of the month – a late-game loss to Houston and a blowout at the hands of Real Salt Lake – United are looking down the barrel of an intimidating fifteen-day stretch: five games, beginning with Sunday’s home match against the Colorado Rapids (8 pm ET, Univision Deportes).
D.C. will be without the services of a slew of starters and reserves for the month. Backup goalkeeper Andrew Dykstra (achilles) and forward Conor Doyle (knee) are out for the year, reserve striker Michael Seaton is unavailable for the next few weeks (quadriceps) and starting center back Jeff Parke remains out indefinitely with an inner ear condition he just had surgery on. Additionally, forward Eddie Johnson is suspended for the next two league matches after kicking the ball at Carlos Salcedo in the RSL match.
What’s more, United will have to deal with CONCACAF Champions League group stage play – their first CCL match, against Jamaican side Waterhouse FC, falls smack in the middle of this cluster of games.
The scheduling gods did United no favors earlier this year when United’s road match against the LA Galaxy – originally scheduled for March 15 – moved to August 27 to accommodate the Galaxy's CCL quarterfinal series against Tijuana – which they eventually lost. The rescheduled date now only adds to D.C.’s scheduling headache.
“[The league] kind of didn’t know the Champions League schedule,” United head coach Ben Olsen said. "The league knew in and around when it’d be, and we knew in and around when it’d be. We didn’t have any say in [the rescheduling].
“This isn’t a date we would’ve wanted. The league has scheduling issues all over the place. They have to make tough decisions. Once the schedule’s set and you move a game, there’s very few spots where you can fit games in."
D.C., of course, find themselves in playoff position, and Olsen has stated openly that their primary goal for this year is to make the playoffs. So where does CCL fit in to their plans? According to Olsen, the club plans to take the competition seriously – but their primary objective remains clear.
"Our goal is to make the playoffs this year,” Olsen told MLSsoccer.com. "We will certainly go about CONCACAF in a way that we should get through – we’re going to hopefully get through the group stage. But our goal from day one is to make the playoffs this year. Both making the playoffs and getting through CONCACAF are doable.
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“If you’re asking me whether I’d rather make the playoffs this year or play in [the elimination round of] CONCACAF next year – I’d say I’d rather make the playoffs.”
As for United’s depth – particularly at left back, where backup fullback Taylor Kemp and converted midfielder Lewis Neal are his only options – Olsen seems comfortable, confident that the hodgepodge of players he throws together for each game during this stretch can get the job done.
"Our depth will be tested – it’s starting to be tested now – I think you’ll see some players rise to the occasions, we’ve got guys chomping at the bit to get real minutes in real games," said Olsen. "It’s going to take a whole group, it’s going to take us to remain focused and committed to each other."