It was no secret that the first half of D.C. United’s 2018 campaign was going to be difficult. Wishing to maximize the amount of games they played at the soon to be opened Audi Field, United and Major League Soccer settled on a schedule that would see the Black-and-Red play 12 of their first 14 games away from home, with the two ‘home’ games coming at venues that had never hosted a MLS game before.
Yet, with the overhaul of the personnel that the club has undergone since August, there was some belief that the 2018 season would play out differently than 2017. Instead, United has failed to get win any of their first five games, despite one of those games being at home, and United leading another, while playing up a man.
The latest game, the latest loss, came last weekend, when United conceded early, and then hardly threatened against a Sporting Kansas City team that had given up at least two goals in each of their first four league games. That left United to go into their first bye week of the season with just two points from two games.
“We just lack confidence at the moment,” winger Paul Arriola told B&RU earlier this week, when asked about the team’s mentality heading into the bye week. “We lack a good understanding of the type of team that we are.”
United have a friendly upcoming schedule to help them gain back some of that lost confidence. Next weekend, they host Columbus Crew SC at the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, their last home game until July. Then they get another bye week, before facing off against the Philadelphia Union. That game is followed by another week off, before the team heads out west to play Real Salt Lake.
It’s a quirk in the schedule thanks to United’s wish to play as many games as possible at Audi Field. But given the start the team is off to, it also presents the Black-and-Red an opportunity to fix what has so far ailed them this year.
“In some ways, we are moving in the right directions,” United head coach Ben Olsen told B&RU on Tuesday. “In some ways there are some deficiencies that need to be sorted out.”
When Luciano Acosta scored late into stoppage time on March 17th, securing a point for United against the Houston Dynamo, some of the bad taste from the previous two weeks seemed to have been washed away. There were two points left on the field against Orlando City SC, and the Black-and-Red had a game to forget against Atlanta United.
Instead, United has failed to capitalize on any momentum from that goal. In the two weeks since, they have lost twice, scoring just once. But as Olsen pointed out, though the team is disappointed with the season thus far, there’s no time for feeling sorry for how the games have played out.
“Losses are emotional, it doesn’t matter whether they are away games or home games,” said Olsen. “But it’s important to not get too low from the results up to now. It’s also important to hold ourselves to a higher standard, and ask a little bit more of each other to get those results.”
And that sentiment was echoed by Steve Birnbaum.
“[Our] mentality has to stay positive,” the center back told B&RU on Tuesday.
In preparation for next weekend’s tilt, United is practicing today in Annapolis, to get a feel for the stadium. Tomorrow, they will play an intra-squad scrimmage at the University of Maryland, a way to stay sharp when there is no league game on the docket.
And then, once the weekend passes, the focus turns to Columbus. It was only a couple of weeks ago when United couldn’t get out of the first half on the road against Columbus with the score level. Conceding twice late in the first half essentially ended the contest, as the Black-and-Red offered up a meager response in the second half.
Given United’s position in the league standings so far, the game against the Crew has the utmost importance. But add in the fact that it’s the last chance for United to pick up points at home until July, and the game has even more meaning. For Arriola, the game is a must-win.
“We have to win,” said Arriola. “I can’t emphasize that enough.”