It's been a tough run of recent form for a shorthanded and goal-starved D.C. United side lately, but head coach Ben Olsen said on Thursday that his hope is that one of the key cogs his team has sorely missed this season will be able to return to the pitch in 2020.
Speaking with reporters on a Thursday video conference call, Olsen said that winger Paul Arriola has been tackling his rehab from a torn ACL he suffered in preseason enthusiastically, working hard in the weight room and providing an uplifting presence at training. The hope, Olsen said, is that Arriola will be able to play some competitive minutes during the stretch run of the season.
"Paul's doing great," Olsen said. "He's on track to hopefully get some minutes this year, as it goes down into the stretch. But it's been inspiring to watch him in the weight room and he's out on the field in kind of a neutral capacity. So it's nice to have him with the guys and his energy."
It's certainly good news for DCU, even if Arriola doesn't wind up playing a significant a role this season. In the short term, though, they'll have to continue to make do without him, and that means finding a way to compensate for his absence in the attack, which the squad has struggled to do so far.
DCU hasn't found the net more than once in a game since their 2-2 draw with Toronto FC at the MLS is Back Tournament on July 13, and are coming off a 0-0 draw against NYCFC that saw them go the entire game without a single shot, on target or otherwise. The team took criticism in the aftermath for the conservative tactics, but Olsen defended the approach on Thursday, saying that given his injury-ravaged roster, it just about putting themselves in the best position to get a result.
"We thought it was important for those two games and I said it after New York City, we’re going to keep evaluating who we have, who the opponent is and how best to go about getting a result, and that could mean a change in structure, it could mean a change in personnel," Olsen said. "We just figured that, again with the players available for the last two games, that was the way we thought we could get results in the way we built the team, and also put them in the structure.
"We rode our luck as you know, the shots were different, but again we went into those games expecting those types of stats and the guys were able to manage getting four points against the two New York teams that, again, typically that’s not an easy thing to do in this league. Now the job is to come home and win a game against a very hungry team, a team with new energy with a new manager. And, you know, we always have very interesting, tough matches against Red Bulls."
Additionally, Olsen said, for however much his team lacked in the attack, he was pleased with the defensive moxie the group showed in getting that result against an NYCFC team that has a dangerous offensive unit. It's that aspect of the performance the coach said he'd rather focus on, as opposed to whatever anyone else has to say about the zero shots.
"It's interesting how those stories take shape, but to me the story was from a coaching standpoint, a team that was down five, six starters, with some young guys in an unfamiliar structure, doing what it takes to get points in a very tough league against two very tough opponents," he said. "And I don't understand why sometimes the narrative is geared always towards the offensive side and a lack of appreciation for a group that is willing to defend and grind and do what it takes within what they have to offer, to get a result. I'm used to that. We've won games with one shot. I think we broke records with one shot to win games, I think we even had an own goal, where we had 0 shots and we won on an own goal. So, we continue to break records around here."