D.C. United tries to keep its cool as MLS playoff race heats up


“You want to come into the locker room and throw someone against the wall if they screwed up? That’s part of this,” D.C. United Coach Ben Olsen said after his team had a bit of a meltdown on Sunday against Philadelphia. “That’s emotional professional sports but I can’t have it on the field in the camera’s eyes.” (Ned Dishman/Getty Images)
August 21, 2012

D.C. United Coach Ben Olsen witnessed the same antics that television viewers and spectators saw Sunday in the hysterical final moments of his team’s 1-1 draw with the Philadelphia Union:

Branko Boskovic and Emiliano Dudar were caught up in the emotion of a controversial affair and received red cards. Chris Pontius barked at Dudar for an imprudent tackle. Brandon McDonald growled at teammate Chris Korb. Bill Hamid thrust himself into a ruckus and shoved an opponent after the final whistle.

At the time, United looked like a team unraveling in the heat of the MLS playoff race.

“That just can’t happen on camera,” Olsen said Tuesday about his team’s ornery behavior near the end of NBC Sports Network’s coverage. “You want to come into the locker room and throw someone against the wall if they screwed up? That’s part of this. That’s emotional professional sports, but I can’t have it on the field in the camera’s eyes.

“Believe it or not, it happens more than you think, and most of it happens behind closed doors within our family. That’s normal. It just can’t happen on the field.”

During his postgame talk with the players, Olsen, an intense sort during a 12-year playing career, addressed the importance of maintaining composure. From all appearances Tuesday, lessons had been learned and angry words forgotten ahead of Wednesday’s match against the Chicago Fire at RFK Stadium.

“The end of the game was heated and everyone was on edge,” Korb said. “We were barking at each other, but it’s over in five minutes once we are in the locker room.”

After the game, McDonald said the on-field confrontation with Korb was a misunderstanding related to a last-gasp tactic.

Also late in the match, as Dudar walked off the field following a red card, Pontius said something to the Argentine defender and pointed to his own head twice, as if instructing him to use better judgment. Dudar’s ejection left United at a two-man disadvantage.

“It’s just because I want to win games. It’s nothing personal,” Pontius said Tuesday, adding that the intrasquad outbursts haven’t spilled over. Throughout the year, United’s players have attributed their resurgent season to, in part, a harmonious locker room.

Captain Dwayne De Rosario appreciated his teammates’ fire.

“You are starting to see guys really care,” he said. “It showed their passion and they’re putting a lot of onus on themselves and expecting a lot from others. And when things don’t go right, you better believe guys have to be held accountable for the mistakes.”

Although he didn’t appreciate the public quarrels and ejections, Olsen accentuated the positive.

“You can look at it two ways,” he said. “I prefer to look at it as we’re an emotional team right now and you need to play with emotion in these games.”

United (11-8-4, 37 points) will need to harness those emotions on short notice Wednesday, the second of five matches in a two-week span. The Fire (12-7-5, 41) has won three in a row and enjoyed an extra day of rest.

With four games in hand over its nearest pursuer — Montreal is 11-13-3 with 36 points — United is in good standing to secure an Eastern Conference playoff berth this fall.

Olsen’s group, though, is in a 2-4-1 rut and will play the Impact in Quebec on Saturday before facing two of MLS’s best sides next week, the New York Red Bulls and Real Salt Lake.

United’s quality of play improved in the second half Sunday, a stirring response that brightened the club’s otherwise bitter mood triggered by the rulings of referee Mark Geiger.

“We have some injuries and we can make all these excuses, but we have to get it done,” Olsen said. “Doesn’t matter who is out — red cards, injuries. It’s that time of season we have to man up.”

United’s absences go beyond Dudar, who started Sunday, and Boskovic, an effective second-half substitute. Defenders Robbie Russell (foot) and Daniel Woolard (concussion) remain out, and with Dudar sidelined, Olsen will have to reconfigure his back line again.

Said Pontius, “These are the times when you want those quick turnarounds, where you can put that [Philadelphia] game behind and hopefully get off to a good note against Chicago.”

Steven Goff is The Post’s soccer writer. His beats include D.C. United, MLS and the international game, as well as local college basketball.
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