WASHINGTON – Two days after a Washington Post report linked D.C. United to a move for Dutch international and former LA Galaxy midfielder Nigel de Jong, coach Ben Olsen gave only a rough sketch of what has so far been a quiet summer transfer window for a struggling club.
“There’s a lot going on,” Olsen said after training on Tuesday. “You put a lot of effort and focus into one and then it doesn’t always happen. And then the next one. It’s constant. It’s daily. What I would say is we’re working very hard to improve this team right now, with the short term and the long term in mind.”
And defensive midfield is arguably the most urgent of numerous needs, with 2016 Herman Award winner Ian Harkes going down potentially for several weeks with an ankle injury picked up in Minnesota. Marcelo Sarvas, 35, is an option at the position, but has been inconsistent and Rob Vincent is still out with an ailing knee.
Whether to prioritize the short or long term is more of an open question.
No MLS team has qualified for the postseason with fewer than 42 points since the league schedule was lengthened to 34 games, and D.C. would have to earn two points per game over its last 12 matches to reach that mark. A shift of power this year to the Eastern Conference means a more realistic playoff target is probably in the 48-50 range.
“The East is so tough right now – all the teams that are making additions all the time,” said winger Lloyd Sam, who is in his seventh MLS season and second in D.C. “You can’t just go into games and get results. You have to be at your best. That’s how it is now. When I first came in, it wasn’t like that.”
That said, D.C. are in a unique position as they bring down the curtain on RFK Stadium and look toward the targeted June 2018 opening of Audi Field.
The push to build buzz for their long-awaited new home may be reason enough to seek immediate improvement, even if playoffs are beyond reach. Still, Olsen believes making the postseason is an attainable goal.
“ Of course it’s possible,” he said. “To me it’s not about putting a number [of points] on the board right now, or making a big speech about, 'Here’s the goals.' It’s about this weekend and trying to put the best team out there and claw and scrape and find a way to win the game.”
There was an obvious edge to Tuesday’s session that included a brief verbal flare-up between Steve Birnbaum and Luciano Acosta, two of the club's younger players who were were the backbone of its 2016 playoff run. Olsen insisted that was a good sign ahead of the weekend, when D.C. will attempt to avoid tying a team record with a seventh straight loss when they welcome league leaders Toronto FC on Saturday (7 pm ET | TSN; MLS LIVE in the US).
“If it’s only me holding them accountable, at some point they just turn you off. That’s the reality,” Olsen said. “So you need support from the group itself to hold each other to a high standard. And if you don’t do that, you’re in trouble.”