WASHINGTON — The downstairs media room at RFK Stadium always gets a bit more crowded this time of year.
On Tuesday, one day after D.C. United's 5-0 #DecisionDay drubbing at the hands of Columbus Crew SC, D.C. head coach Ben Olsen met the media following his team's only training session before Wednesday's Knockout Round match against the New England Revolution (7:30pm ET, UniMás in US, TSN2, RDS2 in Canada, match preview).
Most writers in attendance were eager to satisfy some sort of narrative, and many had the questions to fullfill them: Did United’s loss to Columbus cost them valuable momentum headed into the playoffs? Do teams that end up winning Knockout Round games fare better in the conference semifinals because they gain momentum other teams don’t have? Do United have the resilience to bounce back from such a harrowing defeat?
Ben Olsen isn’t too concerned. About that defeat. Or about narratives.
"It’s horse*,” Olsen said. "Show up tomorrow, do the business. That’s what playoff soccer is about.”
"We’re not so concerned with trends and stats," he continued. "All that stuff just doesn’t make sense for us to focus on right now. All our focus is on winning a game and on what we have to do to prepare and be ready to do that.
"So all this [speculation] – that’s you guys. I appreciate that. I think that’s cool, and I think that’s great and fun to read. From a coaching standpoint, none of that matters to me. I've got to get these guys, each individual guy and collectively as a team, ready to go to war tomorrow and win a ballgame."
It’s not to say Olsen hasn’t taken anything from D.C.’s collapse in Columbus. The five-goal margin of defeat equaled United’s largest ever, matching a 6-1 defeat to Kansas City in 1997, and Olsen suggested he has identified issues with his team's performance against Crew SC. But he reiterated that those issues will likely not lead to wholesale changes.
"I’m not putting too much stock into [Sunday’s] game,” said Olsen. "I’m not going to throw everything out the window because we got handed a hefty defeat; it’s not that simple. There’s a bunch of different reasons for Sunday. You can’t discount, leading up to that, some of the positive stuff that we’ve played. Does that mean I won’t make a change or two for tomorrow? No. That doesn’t mean that we might not throw a change or two in, because New England is a different team than Columbus.”
Heading into the match against the Revolution, Olsen can make several possible changes. At center back, Kofi Opare has recently taken the reins from second-year defender Steve Birnbaum, who remains an option; up top, midseason acquisition Alvaro Saborio could get a nod, shifting Sunday’s starter – Chris Rolfe – out wide.
Olsen’s disregard for speculation and supposition makes a bit of sense when it comes to Wednesday’s encounter. Many of United’s players and coaches talked about Sunday’s encounter with Columbus as a figurative “must-win.” Their date with New England on Wednesday is a literal must-win.
There is no room for error, no time to ponder the ill effects of Sunday's loss or the potential benefits of a victory. Win, and they advance. Lose, and the doors close on RFK for another year.
“All that is out the window now,” Rolfe said. “It’s playoff time. You just have to show up now, work your ass off and figure out how to get a result. Whether it’s ugly or not, figure out how to do it. On a set piece, penalty kicks, whatever. Kick the s out, get a goal.”