WASHINGTON – If D.C. United reach the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs, they will do so primarily on the strength of their home form.
Once they get there, they would almost certainly face a one-and-done Knockout Round encounter on the road, likely against the same New York City FC team they visit on Saturday afternoon (4:55 pm ET | Univision, Twitter — Full TV & streaming info).
Given that likelihood, could a win Saturday bring the confidence needed to earn the same kind of away result eight weeks later?
“My head’s not there,” D.C. coach Ben Olsen said Wednesday. “We have a pretty clear job right now. And that’s just to get as many points as possible each weekend. And try to move up the table. We can’t worry about where we end up if we end up in the postseason. It’s about getting to the postseason. And we’ll deal with that stuff when it comes.”
If D.C. are fortunate enough to climb into the Eastern Conference’s sixth and final playoff spot and face NYCFC or whoever finishes third, it will be a with a markedly different squad. United are without five international call-ups. It would be six if not for a hamstring injury ruling right back Oniel Fisher out of duty in Jamaica’s friendlies against Ecuador and the Cayman Islands.
Others reporting for duty include Paul Arriola (USA), Junior Moreno (Venezuela), Zoltan Stieber (Hungary), Darren Mattocks (Jamaica) and Bruno Miranda (Bolivia). The Cityzens are also without four international call-ups and are coming off a 1-0 loss at home against the New England Revolution on Wednesday..
Olsen finds himself in the unusual predicament of having two healthy left backs – Joseph Mora and Vytas – but no one naturally suited to the right side of defense. He says Vytas, midfielders Chris Durkin and Russell Canouse and center back Jalen Robinson are potential options there. He also posited using a three-back system.
“We have to get a little bit creative in this game,” he admitted.
United’s ranks could’ve been further dwindled had US men's national team boss Dave Sarachan called in Canouse or goalkeeper Bill Hamid to join Arriola.
Olsen refuted the idea that Sarachan deliberately left either player back to help D.C., though he also noted that even with sparse numbers, D.C. can’t afford a letdown. They enter the weekend six points back of the sixth-place Montreal Impact and the playoff line.
“We have no choice,” said Olsen. “We have to keep pushing and this weekend is another chance to try to move up the table.”