While the U.S. Men’s National Team continued to capture the country’s attention at the World Cup this week, D.C. United’s players quietly slipped back into training mode ahead of a showdown with the Seattle Sounders on Saturday night at RFK Stadium.
It is a strange time for Major League Soccer: The World Cup is going on but United attacked a laundry list of priorities this week, Coach Ben Olsen said.
Olsen was charged with getting his team refocused after a two-week layoff. Moreover, on Thursday he testified at a D.C. Council hearing in support of the construction of a new soccer stadium in the city.
“Our mentality is: ‘Let’s get back to work,’ ” Olsen said.
On Saturday, Olsen’s club — in first place in the Eastern Conference — will have perhaps its toughest test of the season against the Sounders, who sit atop the Western Conference standings and hope to pick up valuable points even with two of their stars playing in Brazil.
“We’ve worked pretty damn hard this week,” D.C. United defender Bobby Boswell said. “They’re top of the league for a reason.”
D.C. United (25 points) is unbeaten in three straight MLS matches, including a 4-2 road win over Montreal earlier this month. Luis Silva, who had missed much of the season with an ankle injury, scored his first three goals of the season in the match and goalkeeper Andrew Dykstra pushed his unbeaten run to four.
But that win came 17 days ago, and it came at a price with the injury of forward Fabian Espindola, a league MVP candidate through the first 15 games. Espindola suffered a strained medial lateral ligament in his right knee early in the match and is expected to be out until late July.
Even after D.C. United was upset, 1-0, last week in a U.S. Open Cup game against Rochester, it still is one of the league’s hottest teams. Of its seven wins, four have come in the past six weeks — and in June the team took a pivotal step when it beat Sporting Kansas City at home and earned a draw with Columbus at FedEx Field. It has lost just once in the past seven matches.
“First place doesn’t mean a lot to us right now. It’s being thrown out a lot,” Olsen said. “I think we understand what we need to do this year, and that’s make the playoffs.”
It has been three years since D.C. United has beaten Seattle (32 points), which has won eight of its last 10 matches overall. Seattle’s Clint Dempsey and DeAndre Yedlin are in Brazil and Obafemi Martins (four goals in the past four games) will miss Saturday’s match after being sent off in a win over Chicago earlier this month .
Boswell said D.C. United will look to jump on Seattle early, hoping to expose weary legs from a cross-country flight and a midweek U.S. Open Cup match against San Jose. And even though the Sounders aren’t at full strength, Boswell noted that they are stacked with dangerous personnel — they have scored seven goals in two matches withour Dempsey or Yedlin — and that presents D.C. United with an opportunity to pick up points.
“They’re kind of a deep team, which that will be tested this game because they’re missing some of their key guys,” Boswell said. “They’ve still been getting results and winning with the guys they have, so they’re definitely a formidable opponent.”