After dropping a 2-1 match at New England last weekend, D.C. United returned home this week with a sense of reinvigoration ahead of Saturday’s home match against Sporting Kansas City. This time last week, team captain Bobby Boswell was stepping through the portal to life on the road, forced from his comfortable diet, cramming into a hotel room with a teammate and preparing legs weary from travel for one of MLS’s best teams.
Boswell and United will face another top league contender Saturday at RFK Stadium, but at least the team can revel in meeting the league’s defending champion on its own ground. Since being embarrassed, 3-0, in its season opener against Columbus, United has responded with a 4-0-2 record at RFK.
“You get more of a routine at home than when you go on the road,” Boswell said following Friday’s practice. “The biggest thing is we realize what happened early on, that wasn’t the way we wanted to start. But we feel as of late the performances have been up to our standards. When teams come in here we want to make it hard.”
United (5-4-3) sits in third place in the Eastern Conference standings, and with 18 points is just one point behind Kansas City and five behind New England. After a sluggish start, United has put together one of the best resurgences in the league, outscoring opponents 12-4 with three clean sheets at home since the loss to Columbus.
Reasserting itself at RFK has been at the core of United’s push, and as the season enters its fourth month, picking up points at home will be pivotal in making the playoffs.
“Teams that make the playoffs, they take care of business at home. It’s something we strive to do here,” United Coach Ben Olsen said. “We like to win our home games. We’ve got good fans, we’ve got good support here. We feel comfortable. It’s important for us to get three points again this weekend.”
A roster full of new faces continued to show growth and continuity despite letting one get away against New England. Offensive production hasn’t wavered — United hasn’t been shut out since a 1-0 loss at Toronto in its second match — and Fabian Espindola scored his second goal in as many games against the Revolution, pushing his season total to six. His play off the bench spoke to United’s continued depth, which will receive help Saturday with the expected return of midfielder Chris Rolfe after he missed last week’s game with a hamstring injury. Forward Eddie Johnson will also be available after his red card against New England was rescinded earlier this week.
“I think it’s big that we have all of our pieces back,” United goalkeeper Bill Hamid said. “I think it’s very important that we have Eddie back, yes. I think it’s very important that we have Rolfe back . . . Having all those pieces and having those threats in the attacking half coming from every angle, it should be tough for teams to defend that.”
Kansas City (5-4-4) has a seven-game undefeated streak against United, including two wins last season. But the visiting team is winless in its past four matches and will be without several key players Saturday because of international duties and injuries. Two of Sporting’s stars, Matt Besler and Graham Zusi (Maryland), are with the U.S. national team in preparation for the World Cup in Brazil.
“They will have some important pieces out, you can’t replace those guys. But we don’t worry about that either,” Boswell said. “They’re a well-coached team . . . their job is to make the game difficult and fight and scrap for everything. I’m sure it will be a high foul-count type of game, that’s the way they want it. It’s our job to go out and play our game and not let them dictate the pace of the game.”