Despite going winless in four matches since their season opener against Chivas USA, D.C. United are confident and relaxed as they enter a crucial stretch of the season featuring five Eastern Conference foes in a row.
United still find themselves within touching distance of the top of the Eastern Conference after a 1-0 loss to the Columbus Crew last weekend as the New England Revolution come to RFK Stadium this Saturday.
One of the factors in that winless streak was an exhausting schedule that sent the Black-and-Red from D.C. to Los Angeles to Mexico City to Columbus in the span of 13 days.
"It reminds me of my younger days, back when we'd play, like, six games in two days in under-15 (tournaments)," said Alecko Eskandarian. "Just the planes, getting on three different flights to go somewhere, that takes a lot out of you. It's unfortunate that those are the circumstances, but regardless of that, it'd be an excuse to say that's the reason we lost."
After last Friday's frustrating loss to the Crew, United head coach Peter Nowak gave his squad the weekend off to recover, then returned to their typical practice routine in preparation for Saturday's showdown with the Revolution.
"We worked hard the last couple of days," said veteran striker Jaime Moreno. "We know we've got to get back on track and try to win games. I feel comfortable and confident that we're going to find that -- I'm not really concerned at all."
Moreno's attacking partner Eskandarian also strikes an upbeat tone.
"We finally feel like a team, getting back into the swing of things," he said. "We don't have to worry about when the next flight is. We've had very good training these past few days."
Clearly, the most trying event of United's travel odyssey was their heartbreaking loss to Mexican outfit Pumas UNAM on April 13 in the CONCACAF Champions Cup. The high altitude of Mexico City conspired with an opportunistic Pumas side to devastate D.C. both physically and psychologically, prompting a good deal of introspection.
"Disappointment is not really the word, it's so much more," said goalkeeper Nick Rimando. "It's the worst I've ever gotten scored on. I think 5-0 ties the (worst loss in) history for D.C. For the team, it was more embarrassment than anything."
"It was a gut check, definitely," said Eskandarian. "All of us looked in the mirror and said, 'We lost 5-0.' It was embarrassing."
Now United are determined to resolve the defensive breakdowns and poor finishing that cost them so dearly at the Estadio Olimpico Universitario.
"I think as players we realize that we weren't good enough," said Moreno. "To be in that kind of competition you can't make mistakes. But we did and we made so many, that's what cost us the game.
"It's a bad way to lose, but I think in retrospect it's good for us so that we wake up and know where we are. It lets us work more on things that we've been a little bit soft on."
With their upcoming clashes featuring the MLS elite, including New England, Kansas City and Columbus over the next three weeks, United must find the answers or risk being left behind in a competitive Eastern Conference.
Much of that depends on a resurgence of misfiring strikers Moreno and Eskandarian. But pressure remains on United's defensive line, especially in light of Bryan Namoff's recent injury setback. Namoff, a fixture at right back last season, will miss the next three to four weeks due to a fractured rib.
Rookie Bobby Boswell has endured a baptism by fire at central defender, his steady performances having earned him a promotion to the senior roster. His continuing development will go a long way in determining the sturdiness of the Black-and-Red defense.
"It's a little tough to lose two in a row, especially the way we lost in Mexico, but Peter (Nowak) said the sign of a good team is how they react," said Boswell. "Hopefully we can go out and rebound really well, and get a win on Saturday."
Charles Boehm is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.