Upcoming home games are vital to D.C. United’s playoff push


D.C. United has seven remaining home games in the regular season, starting on Saturday night against Columbus. A strong return from those games will put United in position for a playoff berth. (Patrick McDermott/GETTY IMAGES)

D.C. United’s path to the MLS playoffs will pass through Kansas City and Salt Lake City, Montreal and Portland. However, the most important venue over the next 12 weekends is the 51-year-old quarters on East Capitol Street.

United (10-7-3) hasn’t lost at RFK Stadium since the season opener, and by maintaining fine form at home and securing occasional points on the road, the four-year postseason drought will end.

“We emphasized that part very early in preseason and we hammered it home,” Coach Ben Olsen said, no pun intended. “It’s our responsibility to win games at home. . . . You’ve got to take care of your home games and you’ll be okay in this league.”

After playing one regular season game at RFK in June and July, United will host four this month, beginning Saturday night against the Columbus Crew (8-7-4).

Since falling to Sporting Kansas City in March, United is 7-0-2 in league play at home with 23 goals scored and eight conceded. It has won six straight at RFK. Most recently, in a non-league test last weekend, United tied visiting Paris Saint-Germain, 1-1.

United has already matched its home victory total for the previous two years combined, when it was 7-16-9 in the regular season.

“We struggled at home the last few years, and if we wanted to be a playoff team, we needed to change it,” fourth-year defender Dejan Jakovic said. “We’ve been playing our best soccer at home and we can’t let up.”

The uptick in home dates comes at a good time. United has lost its past three road games, including a 1-0 decision at Columbus two weeks ago, and has dropped to fourth place in the Eastern Conference behind New York, Houston and Kansas City. Working in United’s favor is the number of games played: United has had three fewer than both the Red Bulls and Dynamo, who met Friday night in Houston, and two less than Sporting K.C.

D.C. remains in good standing to finish in the top five and secure a playoff slot, but winning at home against lesser teams is becoming essential.

“We have a good record at home,” defender Brandon McDonald said, “but it doesn’t mean anything unless we continue to win games.”

United should continue to win at home. None of the remaining seven matches at RFK features top Western clubs. Two games are against Columbus.

Philadelphia, New England and Chivas USA, none of whom is on pace to make the playoffs, will visit once each. The other two are against Eastern contenders New York and Chicago.

Most of United’s regulars are available for the rematch with the Crew. Olsen’s most pressing decisions are on the frontline and backline.

Recent patterns suggest pairing new acquisition Long Tan — instead of Maicon Santos (seven goals) or Hamdi Salihi (five) — with captain Dwayne De Rosario at forward. In the back, Olsen has three candidates for two central roles: Jakovic, McDonald and Emiliano Dudar, who fell out of favor in June but performed well against PSG.

“Going forward, we have a lot of games and we know we can’t grind two of them out the whole time,” Olsen said. “I have faith in all three. The PSG game was a good chance to get Dudar 90 [minutes] and the other two 45, so it’s a competition back there. Hopefully all three of them can step up over this next stretch.”

United notes: Midfielder Andy Najar is expected to start again for Honduras against Brazil on Saturday in an Olympic quarterfinal. . . . Jakovic and De Rosario have been recalled by Canada for an Aug. 15 friendly against Trinidad and Tobago in Lauderhill, Fla. Hamdi Salihi will report to Albania’s squad for a Moldova match the same day. None will miss any MLS matches. . . . Defender Ethan White (Richmond) and goalkeeper Andrew Dykstra (Charleston) were loaned to third-division clubs for weekend matches.

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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