WASHINGTON – Two days after their most painful loss of 2014, D.C. United took to the training pitch outside of RFK Stadium on Tuesday morning looking to right the ship ahead of the return leg of their Eastern Conference Semifinal series with the New York Red Bulls.
United were thoroughly outplayed in Sunday evening’s 2-0 loss and head into Saturday’s clash (2:30 pm ET, NBC) looking to climb a bit of a mountain: D.C. need a pair of goals to force extra time or three to win the match outright – while also needing to keep a clean sheet, as allowing just a single away goal would spell almost certain elimination from the MLS Cup Playoffs, presented by AT&T.
Despite the circumstances, there was a good energy surrounding United’s training session on Tuesday. Afterwards, D.C. head coach Ben Olsen – who on Sunday evening memorably said that the Red Bulls had “put a whoopin’ on us” – expressed some of his optimism.
“One thing I do believe in is that this team responds to adversity,” Olsen told MLSsoccer.com. "There’s real character with these guys and I have no doubt that we will be a better side [than we were last weekend.] Like I said before, we’ll make this thing very interesting.”
Added midfielder Chris Rolfe: "When we work for each other, which we didn’t do very much on Sunday, we’re a very difficult team to break down. We always get our chances, as well we can defiantly replicate [our regular-season success] on Saturday."
Olsen and Rolfe also shared their thoughts on the “away goals” tiebreaker, a new wrinkle in this year’s edition of the MLS playoffs. A single goal would likely spell the end for United, as it would force the club to have to win at least 4-1 to advance. With the rival Red Bulls holding that two-goal advantage, Olsen fully expects the opposing club to push for the final blow.
"The away goals [rule] obviously changes the whole complexity of this match,” said Olsen. "Giving one away is a killer. I’m assuming they’d like to get that goal, obviously – but I wouldn’t anticipate them giving us a full-court press for 90 minutes."
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Added Rolfe: "I would think [they’d push for the opener,] you never know. I think it’d be to our advantage if they dropped off early. If we get the first goal, then it’s game on. At this point we’re not too worried about them – it’s more about what we need to do. Looking at the two goals that they scored, they just shouldn’t have happened. In terms of breaking them down, we’re not too concerned about that. We’ll look more into that this week.”
Any way they look at it, D.C. United know they have an uphill battle to climb, but also possess the belief that they can pull off the comeback in the series.
"We’ve dug ourselves a hole right now but I feel confident that we can get out of it," said Olsen. "We’ve beaten teams 2-0 many times here. We’re not going to play worse [than we did on Sunday] and I’d be surprised if [New York] played any better."