D.C. United’s friendly against Paris Saint-Germain on Saturday doesn’t carry any long-term consequences, which is probably a good thing because the French club is rebooted for a Champions League charge and could inflict severe damage on a sputtering MLS opponent.
The RFK Stadium meeting does, however, come with short-term ramifications. United is stuck in its worst rut of the season — three losses in four outings — and yearns to regain long-lost rhythm and form before the uptick in regular season matches in August.
Most friendlies are fun and games. Not this one.
“We don’t have that luxury right now,” Coach Ben Olsen said Friday. “We have to go after this as a real game and an exercise to get us better. . . . Hopefully we can use this as an opportunity to move forward.”
Instead of the common approach to a friendly — mixing the lineup with regulars and reserves, offering playing time to young players and experimenting with combinations — Olsen plans to summon most of his usual starters for much of the evening.
“We should be approaching it as a league match,” midfielder-forward Chris Pontius said. “Earlier in the year, even when we weren’t playing our best, we were still finding a way and winning games. If we can do it against PSG, we can do it against anyone in the league.”
United attributes the slump to a lack of competitive matches. Thanks to MLS’s peculiar scheduling, D.C. will have played just five regular season games between late May and the end of July.
“We need games,” Olsen said. “You can train and play 11 [against] 11, but it’s not the same. We need to get in that mode of playing each week.”
The PSG friendly bridges a pair of matches against the Columbus Crew — a 1-0 loss in Ohio last weekend and a meeting in Washington next Saturday, which is the first of six regular season games in August.
United (10-7-3) has fallen into fourth place in the Eastern Conference, five points behind the front-running New York Red Bulls. And although it remains in good standing to earn one of the conference’s five postseason berths, D.C. hasn’t performed like a playoff team recently.
“You can look at the last couple of games, but we believe a big part of that is not being in a rhythm,” General Manager Dave Kasper said. “There is a fine line there with match fitness and match sharpness. You have that when you are playing on a regular basis. We’re obviously concerned — we want to get out of that funk.”
PSG presents a considerable challenge. After finishing second in Ligue 1, France’s top division, the Qatari-owned club embarked on a summer spending spree that enhanced its global brand and thrust it into contention for Europe’s most prestigious club trophy, the UEFA Champions League.
PSG purchased Swedish striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Brazilian defender Thiago Silva from AC Milan, Argentine forward Ezequiel Lavezzi from Napoli and emerging Italian midfielder Marco Verratti, 19, from Pescara. All told, the French team spent more than $130 million on acquisitions.
Ibrahimovic, who will earn $17 million annually, led Italy’s Serie A with 28 goals last season. He missed PSG’s friendly against Chelsea last weekend at Yankee Stadium and will make his highly anticipated debut in Washington, Coach Carlo Ancelotti confirmed.
Silva won’t join the club until after completing Olympic duty in London.
PSG also features Argentine midfielder Javier Pastore, 23, who scored 13 league goals last season.
“This is a great chance to go against, from what I look at from even a preseason game, one of the best teams in the world right now,” Olsen said. “They have a lot of ideas out there, a lot of guys that are special on the ball. It’s a fun team to watch.”
United notes: D.C. midfielder Branko Boskovic is likely to play against his former team (2003-05) after missing one game with a calf injury.