D.C. United has had most everything working in its favor this week: the good vibes of another fruitful away performance, the return of several injured players, MLS honors for a veteran star, a U.S. national team call-up for a young goalkeeper, an impending home match . . .
Ah, about that last item. During this fickle season, home appearances have resulted in more torment than cheer.
United (6-6-8) boasts a 4-3-3 away record — best in the Eastern Conference — and is 3-0-3 on its past six trips. At RFK Stadium, however, the team is 2-3-5 in league play and winless in the last eight home outings in all competitions (0-4-4).
“At least we’re getting results on the road,” Coach Ben Olsen said. “We haven’t been great at home. There have been times where we’ve played some good stuff — entertaining, attacking stuff — and just fell short with our concentration lapse. It’s got to turn around at some point.”
If it doesn’t turn around this month, it might never. United’s three home matches in August — Saturday vs. Toronto FC, next weekend vs. the Vancouver Whitecaps and Aug. 27 vs. the Portland Timbers — are against opponents with a combined away record of 1-21-11.
The numbers were in United’s favor in the previous home game as well, yet the New England Revolution earned its first road victory of the season with a 1-0 victory July 20.
“I don’t want to say there’s more of a game plan because we prepare equally home and away,” Olsen said, “but there seems to be a real collective effort when we go away.”
United has conceded just one goal (on a penalty kick) in its past five away games. At home, it has allowed nine in the past four home dates — many off set pieces and defensive breakdowns.
Toronto has performed poorly both home and away. At 3-11-10, the Canadian side is last in the Eastern Conference. It’s 0-7-5 on the road with 27 goals allowed and has, by far, the league’s worst scoring differential (minus-22). The only victory in the past three months was six weeks ago against Vancouver (2-11-9), the Western bottom dweller.
United won the first meeting between the clubs, 3-0, in April at BMO Field.
To compound its stress, Toronto had to travel to Nicaragua this week for a CONCACAF Champions League qualifier.
Aside from the home blemish, United is feeling good about itself these days. The club is 2-1-4 in the past seven outings and within a point of a playoff berth with more than two months left in the season.
Forwards Charlie Davies (team-high eight goals) and Josh Wolff (four goals, five assists) have recovered from short-term injuries, and defender Devon McTavish and midfielder Santino Quaranta are back in training after long layoffs caused by concussions. Forward Joseph Ngwenya is also improving after suffering a head injury last week.
Dwayne De Rosario was rewarded for his two-goal performance at San Jose last Saturday by being named MLS player of the week. On Thursday, goalkeeper Bill Hamid, 20, received his first invitation to the U.S. national team and will report to camp in Philadelphia on Sunday.
Asked whether the call-up could distract him, Hamid said: “Things are kind of happening fast, but right now I just want to keep my head and worry about Toronto. I’m happy about the call-up but the focus is Toronto.”
Said goalkeepers coach Pat Onstad: “I congratulated him and that was the end of it. He’ll enjoy it when he’s there.”
United is without midfielder Andy Najar, who assisted on De Rosario’s first goal against the Earthquakes before receiving a red card, which carries a one-game suspension. Austin da Luz, acquired from New York last month, is the top candidate to enter the lineup.
A victory Saturday would end United’s home slump and also provide consecutive regular season wins for the first time since June 2009.
“We’re building,” Olsen said. “We’re getting there, slowly.”