WASHINGTON - It has been a long month for D.C. United. But a good one.
D.C. capped off a brutal, seven-game August with a 2-0 victory over the New York Red Bulls on Sunday afternoon, a win that leaves them four points clear of Sporting Kansas City for the Eastern Conference lead and a full 13 points ahead of the final playoff spot in the East.
United finished the month by earning 12 of the available 15 points over their final five matches across all competitions. Needless to say, United head coach Ben Olsen is pleased.
“I absolutely would’ve signed up for that,” Olsen told reporters in a jovial post-game press conference. "It’s been a grind. We have two days off now. The guys are looking forward to not looking at each other and not looking at me. It’s a time now to recharge, enjoy ourselves, but also start preparing ourselves for a very difficult trip out to Vancouver. This time, though, we’ll have legs for Vancouver.”
Olsen’s final comment refers to United’s 4-1 drubbing at the hands of the LA Galaxy last Wednesday, a game in which Olsen rested several key starters.
On Sunday, the starting XI continued to change, as designated player Eddie Johnson -- playing his first game since finishing a 2-game suspension -- was deployed as a second-half substitute. Johnson sat in favor of Luis Silva, who closed out an excellent month with the game-winning goal against New York.
It was the first time since coming to United that Johnson has been excluded from the starting lineup in a game where he could’ve been selected, and Johnson seemed to relish the role. He was active over a 25-minute shift and put the game out of reach with a goal moments from the final whistle.
“I felt good today,” Johnson told MLSsoccer.com after the match. “With my experience, I just wanted to pay attention to the game. I thought Silva did a fantastic job today and had a fantastic goal and I wanted to keep that level and energy going.
“I think we’ve been doing fantasic. The team got some great results during my suspension, and when you come back, you don’t want to drop that level. It was good to be back.”
"This isn’t just a '[should we] put EJ on the bench thing,’” added Olsen. "This is a three-week process of guys managing minutes. A lot more goes into it than 'OK, we’re gonna bench EJ.’ From a minutes standpoint, Fabi[an Espindola] and Luis were a little lighter in that department and their rhythm together had been very good together lately. I thought those two continued to show very good chemistry.”
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It remains to be seen whether Johnson will start in United’s next match, an encounter with Vancouver this weekend. The club will likely continue to rotate players during a 15-day stretch that will see them travel some 9,000 miles for road games against Vancouver, New York, Chicago, and a CCL encounter in Kingston, Jamaica. Olsen seems ready to embrace the challenge.
"I think this is all getting revved up,” the coach concluded. "Now we have to start thinking about these games as potential playoff games, making sure our mentality is one that we’re moving forward and striving to get better over the next month or two. If we do get into the playoffs, that we’re ready for this physically and mentally. It’s a good stretch for us, and it’s going to test us. We have to turn around and play New York in 10 days. That’s not going to be an easy one."