Coming off of a tough 2-0 loss in Texas, D.C. United returned to training intent on improvement. United were distinctly second best throughout their loss at FC Dallas, and given the club’s recent form, there was little room for a positive spin on a disappointing performance at training on Tuesday.
“An extremely poor performance. In particular, the first 20 minutes,” said head coach Ben Olsen. “I’ve stated very clearly during and after the game, and reiterated it again: some of the lack of aggression, our mentality, was just not good enough. But it’s done now, and we’re looking forward to playing at Audi Field in front of our crowd with a chance to respond [to] what was not the best performance from us.”
Goalkeeper Bill Hamid had similar thoughts. “We had a spell that we gave some good energy, some good bite. Showed some good character, but all in all that game was just not good enough from the whole group.”
That said, the mood wasn’t too dour during an energetic training session. With Paul Arriola back from Gold Cup duty and Zoltan Stieber over the illness that kept him off the squad list for the game in Dallas, Olsen could call on nearly every player on the roster to train at full speed. Chris Odoi-Atsem (hip flexor) and Oniel Fisher (knee) were the only holdouts, but both fullbacks were still present, doing drills off to one side.
Between the hunger to change some middling form, increased availability leading to competition for spots, and the summer transfer window opening up on Tuesday, no one was taking it easy.
“I think the sense in the group is that we’re not happy with where we’re at. The performances that we had were poor,” said Arriola, who went through regeneration exercises after a heavy workload with the USMNT. “I think there’s a lot to work on.”
Recent results back that assertion up. United has remained in second place in the Eastern Conference, but have fallen 5 points behind the Philadelphia Union. While the Black-and-Red’s loss over the weekend was only their second league defeat since the start of May, they’ve taken the full three points just once in eight games.
“It’s important to get Junior [Moreno] back, and Joseph [Mora] back from injury, and Paul. It’s also important to bolster this group right now,” said Olsen, referring to some things that might inject some life into his group.
Mora, who returned a week or so earlier from an ankle injury suffered after a bad tackle against Orlando City than expected, was a conspicuous absence at training, but Olsen said the Costa Rican had not suffered an injury relapse. “He’s okay, he’s fine. He had to scoot away to Costa Rica to get some visa stuff worked on. I think it’s a green card issue that is gonna take a day or two. Hopefully we can get him back [Tuesday or Wednesday].”
Mora’s initial scan pointed to a more difficult injury, but according to Olsen — no stranger to ankle injuries himself — that damage turned out to be something from an injury Mora dealt with four years ago rather than something that would hamper him today.
On Friday, United expects to be able to deploy Arriola, another vital player back from an absence, from the start. However, Olsen — taking note of the difficulty of getting through a Gold Cup run — noted the importance of not pushing Arriola too hard straight away.
“Right now, it’s about him getting back with the group and giving us some fresh energy, but also decompressing a little bit. It’s a long month [playing in the Gold Cup]. I’ve gone through those Gold Cups several times, it’s a high-intensity tournament in the summer. You do a lot of traveling, so it can wear on you. Gotta be careful about how we manage him over the next couple days, and see where he’s at closer to game time.”
Arriola described Concacaf’s continental tournament as “a physical and mental battle...that I don’t think I really experienced until this camp, this tournament.” That shouldn’t be mistaken for a complaint, though, as Arriola pointed out quickly that “[It’s] a good thing that Gregg [Berhalter] wanted me on the field. At the same time, there were challenges where you get to the 30th minute, and you’re feeling tired, and you’re like ‘Well, how can I get through this?’”
That said, the 24 year old didn’t seem to be dealing with any noticeable fatigue despite playing in five USMNT games played in just barely more than two weeks. “Physically I feel great right now. I think if we had a game in another two days, I would say I’m able to go. Luckily we have a few extra days here, so I’m looking to be ready for Friday.”
On Friday, United hosts a New England Revolution side that has been reinvigorated under Bruce Arena. Following the dismissal of Brad Friedel, the Revs are unbeaten in seven games (including a 1-1 draw with United), and since Arena took full control his side has picked up 10 of a possible 12 points.
“The last game was a tough one. We were lucky to get a point out of that one,” said Hamid, referring to a game that required a 90th minute Wayne Rooney penalty kick for United to secure a draw against a 10-man New England. “[The Revolution] have energy, they have bite, they have character, they have a lot of speed on their flanks and their back line. So it’s gonna be a tough test for us at home.”
Olsen, who famously played for Arena at the University of Virginia, with United, and with the national team, had praise for what he’s seen out of New England under one of American soccer’s elder statesmen. “They hired probably the best coach this country has ever seen. What that does to a team is it perks them up. He’ll get them committed, and they’ll play as a group. They’ll do all the little things in the right way.”
As far as specifics go, Olsen pointed to improvements at both ends of the field. “I think defensively they’ve been sharper. A little more efficient in the counter-attack. It’s a better team. We’ll have to have a response from our game in Dallas, and put together a very good performance to beat them.”