WASHINGTON – D.C. United are only a few weeks from the light at the end of the tunnel: a first-place finish in Major League Soccer’s Eastern Conference and the 2015-16 CONCACAF Champions League berth that will come with it.
Four points up on the hard-charging New England Revolution and six clear of a Sporting Kansas City team that has struggled to collect points in recent weeks, United’s final three games provide them with some favorable matchups.
They’ll travel to Houston this week for a Sunday match against the Dynamo (3 pm ET; MLS Live) before rounding out the year home against the Chicago Fire and away at Montreal.
On paper, United look poised to finish atop the East for the first time since 2007 – Houston, Chicago and Montreal presently occupy the bottom three spots in the conference. Yet all three games come with their own particular wrinkle, something United head coach Ben Olsen is very aware of.
“Well, first of all we’ve never won at Houston,” Olsen told MLSsoccer.com after training on Tuesday morning. “So that’s great. I don’t really know why – they’ve been one of the top teams in the league consistently throughout [their history], right? The field is always a little narrow, it’s always a bit of a dogfight. … The weather, the field, I’ve got a whole list of excuses why we haven’t won in Houston.
“At the end of the day, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t have won there at some point.”
The seventh-place Dynamo are in the midst of the type of late-season push that’s become their trademark, having dropped only one of their last seven games. United will look to put a massive dent in Houston's playoff aspirations and get a bit of a monkey off their back in the process; D.C. have compiled an 0-9-1 road record against the Dynamo over the past seven years.
Their home matchup with Chicago a week later is certainly a winnable affair, though United have struggled to break through against the Fire in 2014, giving up a pair of late equalizers at home and away to earn a pair of draws. Chicago have little to lose at this point; their 0-0 draw against Montreal this past weekend eliminated them from playoff contention, but they’d surely love to spoil United’s party.
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“Montreal at home is also a very good team,” Olsen said, "especially now because they’ve had injury issues all season and they seem to be back at full strength and have added [Designated Player, Ignacio] Piatti.”
As for the Revolution – the only team that truly seems to have United in their sights at the moment – Olsen has been impressed with their form over the past several months.
"I think they’re on a very good run, and they’re very difficult to play,” he said. "I think [USMNT midfielder Jermaine] Jones has taken them to the next level, and you’re seeing it. They were already a good team before him, and now they add that type of piece and obviously they’ve gotten better.”
And despite their recent struggles, Olsen doesn’t write off Kansas City, either.
KC is still KC, they’re going to push,” he said. “But the good thing is that we’re in control of that, and if we do what we’re capable of doing we’ll be in good shape.
"This is going to be a tough stretch. It’s important for us to keep moving forward and not takes steps backward because of momentum. I’ve seen it year after year, teams with momentum going into the playoffs tend to do well. I’m pretty sure we’re in that category right now."