D.C. United Coach Ben Olsen says players need to step up


“If it’s not working, we will make changes,” D.C. United Coach Ben Olsen said. “I believe in the group, but maybe it’s not the players on the field. Maybe [the answer is the] guys who are waiting” to get into the match. (John McDonnell/THE WASHINGTON POST)

Amid D.C. United’s rough start this season, Coach Ben Olsen took a hard look at himself and his staff to determine whether the problems lie within. But with the defeats continuing to amass and United slipping deeper in MLS’s Eastern Conference standings, Olsen said Tuesday that the onus is now on his players to reverse the club’s ruinous path.

“I have analyzed this [coaching] staff and myself for the last three weeks,” he said Tuesday. “I have put [the assistants] under a microscope, maybe even before I put the players, but I am done with that. It is on the players now. I am going to put them under a microscope.

“I am going to hold them to very, very high standards.”

In other words, Olsen is demanding more from his regulars to pull United (1-5-1) out of a four-game losing streak.

Or else.

“If it’s not working, we will make changes,” he said. “I believe in the group, but maybe it’s not the players on the field. Maybe [the answer is the] guys who are waiting” to get into the match.

Olsen’s comments demonstrated a growing sense of frustration with a core group that has fallen well short of expectations after demonstrating courage and resourcefulness in rallying to reach the conference finals last fall. This spring, he has watched his team sputter in the attack, make catastrophic mistakes and fail to assemble a comprehensive 90-minute performance.

On Sunday, despite a heightened sense of urgency, United conceded two goals in the first 11 minutes and lost to the Philadelphia Union, 3-2 – D.C.’s third consecutive home loss after dropping only one game at RFK Stadium last year.

“It was just not a good enough start on an average week, let alone a game that should have meant the world to this group,” Olsen said.

“Right now, what we are doing is obviously not working,” midfielder Chris Pontius said. “So there has to be changes. I’m not saying pieces coming in and out. I’m saying the way we started the game Sunday. I don’t understand how mentally we start that way when we are in the situation we’re in.”

Despite the bad record, General Manager Dave Kasper reiterated his faith in his coach Tuesday, saying “Ben Olsen is not going anywhere.”

Olsen, under contract through the 2014 season, has been given a “tough hand” because of injuries and other absences, Kasper said. Captain Dwayne De Rosario missed the first two games while serving an MLS suspension and was later nixed by injury. Nick DeLeon has been sidelined a month with a hamstring ailment and supporting players John Thorrington and Lewis Neal are nursing long-term injuries.

A fifth attacker, Marcos Sanchez, was scratched Sunday with a sprained ankle.

Although United is seeking immediate help through a trade or international signing – and is casting an eye on the plentiful summer transfer window -- “we still believe the answers are here in our team,” Kasper said. “We have a lot of quality to work with. We just need to continue to move forward.”

Asked if he thought the roster was good enough to win, Olsen said: “We have the talent to be good enough. The mentality? I am not sure. That part has to get better. We had plenty of talent on the field the other night. I take that team, talent-wise, over the Philly team — and that’s with three or four injuries. But the mentality wasn’t there, so it’s useless.”

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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