WASHINGTON – After D.C. United lost a fifth consecutive match and a second straight in unusually cruel fashion, head coach Ben Olsen insisted he still has faith in his team.
He also knows how dubious that sounds right now.
“I know you guys don’t believe it when I say it, but I do have a lot of belief in this group,” Olsen said following Saturday's 3-1 loss to the Houston Dynamo. “And I’ve got my group together. But we’ve got to start soon.”
D.C.’s losing skid is their worst since they lost seven straight during a miserable 2013 campaign that saw them finish with the worst record in MLS history. And while 2013 was clearly worse from a results standpoint, 2017 has seemed more tortured.
Take the last four days. After giving back a three-goal, second-half lead in a historic 4-3 defeat at the Seattle Sounders on Wednesday, United found themselves behind 3-0 by the 17th minute on Saturday to a Houston team that hadn't won on the road all season.
“It’s pretty rough to be honest,” said forward Deshorn Brown, who just joined D.C. in June. “I just look at it as part of football. I’ve seen worse happen. You can’t let these two games get to your head. So you just have to try not to think about it too much. The moment you start to think about it, it’s going to affect your game more.”
Olsen instead cited the rigors of cross-continental travel, and preferred to look at the improving health of his group, which saw Nick DeLeon and Bobby Boswell return from injury on Saturday. Forward Patrick Mullins is also expected back soon.
“We’ll put together probably our best starting lineup of the year next week and we’ll be rested, not two days off a West Coast trip,” Olsen said. “I know you guys don’t understand that part, because you haven’t done it, but it’s tough. And it’s not a full excuse, but sometimes that’s part of this.”
And by the numbers, a late charge is still a credible, if unlikely idea. United sit five points behind last year's form to this point, before they scored 33 goals over their final 13 games, going 6-2-5 in that stretch to finish fourth in the Eastern Conference.
Since then, though, United have never had all parts in motion at the same time.
First, D.C. failed to score in 12 of their first 18 matches while playing respectable defense. Then, with the return to health of Patrick Nyarko and addition of Brown, United has exploded – relatively speaking – for six goals in their last three matches, only to concede 11 times.
“It just seems like everything that can go wrong goes wrong, and we can’t get a ball to bounce our way,” said defender Chris Korb. “It’s not just that, but I don’t know. It’s just not clicking right now.”
And as United look ahead at a trip to last-place Western Conference side Minnesota United on Saturday, Boswell suggested the problems may not be Olsen's to solve.
“I think the players need to look in the mirror, myself included, and realize that no one has a spot on this team,” he said. “You’ve got to earn that. And if we do that, we give ourselves more of a chance.
“We’ve got to figure it out as a group,” Boswell added, “or we’ll die individually.”