DC United try to balance patience, urgency on long season-opening road trip

BOYDS, Md. – Teammates piled onto stoppage-time hero Luciano Acosta. The final whistle sounded soon after, and moments after that, coach Ben Olsen reached the far endline to receive congratulations from supporters.

All in all, the crowd of 5,158 that filed out of the intimate Maryland Soccerplex stadium Saturday was jovial after D.C. United’s 2-2 come-from-behind draw against the Houston Dynamo.

Even so, after going behind on two early defensive errors, a draw in the first of two home games before the July opening of Audi Field could rightly be seen as two points lost during a road-heavy start to 2018.

“It’s first and foremost a little disappointing not to pull three out of today, even with the first half and gifting them two goals,” Olsen admitted. “I thought in the second half, we had plenty of opportunities to get several goals and put ourselves ahead. That wasn’t the case, and again, I go back to this being a brand-new group. Everybody wants instant perfection. It’s going to take time.”

United certainly look improved offensively from last year, with newcomer Darren Mattocks hitting the net twice already and fellow new arrival Yamil Asad producing as a provider and scorer.

Problem is, the reality of D.C.’s schedule – which features 12 of 14 road games before Audi Field’s debut – may not allow for incremental growth. The next stretch is especially tough, with trips to 2017 Eastern Conference finalists Columbus Crew SC and Toronto FC sandwiching a journey to Sporting Kansas City’s Children’s Mercy Park.

Ben Olsen (standing) and his coaching staff | USA Today Sports Images

D.C.'s veteran defender Nick DeLeon knows it’s a fine balance between patience and urgency for a largely remade starting group.

“I’m more [about] the overall growth,” DeLeon said. “But we have to pick up points in the first half. We can’t get too far behind. Because then it will almost be panicky when we’re at home, to try and chase and get back in the mix.”

If anything, United proved Saturday they won’t easily succumb to that panic reflex, given the manner in which they fought back.

Asad, whose wayward back-pass header resulted in Alberth Elis’ opening goal, returned the give-and-go on Mattocks’ strike to cut the deficit to 2-1. Frederic Brillant, whose miscommunication led to Mauro Manotas’ goal to make it 2-0, won a crucial aerial challenge to set up Acosta’s thunderous equalizing volley.

“I thought in the first half we were a little bit predictable in the way we went about the game,” Olsen said. “But it also shows that this team has a little moxie to them, and were willing to come to out of halftime and put on a good performance after kind of a tough first half mentally.”

Said DeLeon: “This year we have a real purpose and sense of direction on how we want to play as a team. We watch film every day. We’re trying to get on the same page. I can’t tell you exactly when that will happen. But I like the progress that we’re making.”