WASHINGTON – With four regular-season matches standing between D.C. United and their first playoff appearance since 2007, D.C. will need to conquer their season-long road struggles if they hope to break through.
The first of three remaining road matches for United comes Saturday, in arguably the most intimidating atmosphere in MLS: JELD-WEN Field in Portland (10:30 pm ET, watch LIVE online).
“It’s a great place to play,” said United midfielder Perry Kitchen, who scored a goal in D.C.’s 3-2 victory in Portland last year. “As a player, even though we’re the visiting team, it’s fun to play in that environment. I remember last year, a guy is 10 yards away from me and you can yell, but he’s not going to hear you.”
United are 4-9-1 away from RFK Stadium this season, with two of those wins coming against the Philadelphia Union at PPL Park. D.C.’s most recent win in Chester, a 1-0 victory against the Union last Thursday, has served as somewhat of a springboard for United’s road hopes.
“Getting the Philly game under our belt is a positive,” said United coach Ben Olsen. “Going away to Portland, going away to Toronto [next week], there’s a belief we can get results on the road.”
United have scored 13 goals on the road compared to 34 goals at RFK. Their road goal differential is -11, tied for third-worst in the Eastern Conference.
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“We’ve got to start taking our away matches like our home matches,” United defender Brandon McDonald said. “I think we know what we have to do, and what we’re capable of doing.”
United have allowed just one goal in their previous three matches and their previous two road games – a narrow 1-0 loss against Real Salt Lake and the victory in Philly – have been encouraging.
With a small field and intimidating atmosphere on tap, United are hoping to escape Portland with a favorable result. But despite being eliminated from playoff contention, the Timbers aren’t an easy out at home. Portland are 7-4-4 at JELD-WEN and have scored 22 of their 28 goals on their home turf.
Perhaps the fact that United’s backline is settling into comfortable form couldn’t come at a better time given the crowd noise that’s sure to greet D.C. in Portland.
“It’s an atmosphere there where communication isn’t enough, because you really can’t hear each other,” Olsen said. “It’s one of those games where you’ve got to put the onus on yourselves to make plays and cover each other in the back.”
McDonald, center back Dejan Jakovic, right back Andy Najar and left back Chris Korb all have started the previous three matches and their play has served as a catalyst for the club’s increasing confidence.
“We haven’t played well on the road,” Jakovic said. “Hopefully the win in Philly gets us motivated a little bit more. We’re not looking at the teams that are behind us anymore. We’re looking at the teams ahead of us.”