DCU feel the pressure, but don't think they're in "must-win" territory yet

WASHINGTON – For most of Tuesday’s training, D.C. United broke into small sided games on patches as intimate as 20 x 16 yards.

The general idea? Shoot early and often on offense, get stuck in on defense and ramp up the intensity all around. At one point, coach Ben Olsen even bellowed to his players: “Why am I the only one shouting!?” The volume everywhere soon increased.

"Today was just about getting after each other, being competitive and making sure we understand that that part is still a huge component of getting results," Olsen said afterward. "If you don’t show up with that, you might as well not show up at all."

The eighth-year boss admits things have been “moody” on East Capitol Street following United’s 0-3-2 start to the season.

And as D.C. approach their last “home” match for three months on Saturday night against Columbus Crew SC (7 pm ET | Full TV & Streaming Info) at the US Naval Academy, he says it’s crucial to channel those emotions into what is the most important match of the season so far.

He bristled, though, at the idea of calling just the sixth of 34 D.C. matches on the league a “must-win” encounter.

“I wouldn’t classify anything as a must-win unless you’re in a situation down the stretch where you have to win to get into the playoffs or it’s a playoff game,” Olsen said. “I think it’s a silly term. However, do we want to win this game? Of course. We understand that we need a win.” 

United are facing eight straight away matches following Saturday, including trips to Real Salt Lake, both LA clubs, and both of last years’ MLS Cup finalists in the Seattle Sounders and Toronto FC.

But history backs Olsen up. Of the four teams this decade that have made the playoffs after stadium construction forced a road trip of seven or more matches, only the 2012 Houston Dynamo did so by going undefeated at home.

As far as away form, the 2011 Sporting Kansas City side that eventually christened what is now Children’s Mercy Park earned only six points in their first 10 matches. After enduring that league-record longest road trip, they recovered to finish atop the Eastern Conference. The most any team earned in such a trip was when Toronto took 11 points from their first eight matches of 2016.

In other words, a win Saturday would certainly create some breathing room, but a loss wouldn't be a death blow.

“Being one that’s at home, the second game we have at home before July, there’s a little more importance to it,” defender Nick DeLeon said. “But I wouldn’t say any more than that.”

With recent reports of new ownership, a potential massive infusion of cash and planned acquisition of two Designated Players in the secondary transfer window, a D.C. may have much better attacking options for most of the season’s second half. Most of that will be played at Audi Field, which opens on July 14.

In the interim, they’ll be buoyed by the availability of holding midfielder Russell Canouse following a knee ailment that has kept him out so far this season, as well as Junior Moreno’s return from a hamstring strain.

And Olsen hopes the side carry an extra edge into their early season rematch against Crew SC, after a 3-1 defeat three weeks ago that he believes was marred by a non-call in the buildup to Columbus’ final goal.

“We felt like we were a little hard done,” Olsen said of the previous match. “Hopefully that still stings with some of the players, and we can fix that this weekend, getting another bite at that.”