WASHINGTON – Fresh off matches against the defending MLS Cup champion LA Galaxy and Eastern Conference-leading New York Red Bulls, D.C. United will travel south Thursday afternoon for another challenging contest.
Orlando have done about as well as can be expected from an expansion side, losing once in their first four matches – a home defeat to the Vancouver Whitecaps – while riding a wave of fan buzz to a win against the Houston Dynamo and draws with the Montreal Impact and New York City FC. To the surprise of very few, former Ballon D’Or winner Kaká has been the club’s difference-maker, notching a pair of goals and an assist in his first four games in the league.
"They certainly have a lot of tools out there,” D.C. head coach Ben Olsen told MLSsoccer.com. "Kaká has been as good as anybody in the league so far, I don’t think to anyone’s surprise. He’s been really special. He makes their entire team go – so our ability to limit him and his impact in the game will play into [our success]. But they’ve also surrounded him with some good pieces, some guys that have been around the block as well. So we’ll see what happens.”
Friday's match would be a tough task for a healthy D.C. side, but that's far from the case.
United are thoroughly banged up, recently adding USMNT center back Steve Birnbaum to their already lengthy list of injured starters that includes an attacking corps that’s already missing former USMNT forward Eddie Johnson and Designated Player Fabian Espindola. But they will welcome back one important piece for the match, striker Luis Silva.
Though Olsen welcomes Silva’s arrival, he was quick on Thursday to temper his expectations, suggesting that the forward will be worked back in gradually.
“We have to be smart with his minutes, but he’s a guy that’s been training now for two full weeks and we’ve pushed him pretty hard,” Olsen said. “We’ve tested him and we feel comfortable that he’s ready to play. Luis is not a guy that will forget how to play soccer. We just have to get him up to speed physically and he’ll obviously be a good addition to our group."
And while OCSC’s results have been mostly positive, they’ve had moments of shakiness – most notably a stoppage-time defensive breakdown against the Vancouver that led to their only loss of the season. It’s a mixed bag that United midfielder Davy Arnaud knows a thing or two about, having been part of the Montreal Impact during their inaugural 2012 campaign.
“Especially early in the season, no matter how long of a preseason you’ve had, you haven’t had a ton of real game situations together,” said Arnaud. “You can’t simulate a game that means something. Considering that they’re an expansion side, I think they’ve showed some moments where they’ve been really good. Kaká can create a lot of things – we watched some video today and he’s a special player, not that you need to hear that from me. It’s been up and down a little bit, but they’re going to want to win this, especially after that loss to Vancouver at home."