Mired in a four game winless streak in league play, D.C. United returned to RFK last Saturday, in hopes of turning around their fortunes against the Columbus Crew. Instead, despite a scene all too familiar in the nation's capital this year, being down two goals at home, United couldn't find the same magic they had earlier this year, falling at home 2-1.
Despite the loss, despite running their winless streak to five games, and despite finding themselves in fourth place in the Eastern Conference despite leading the Supporters' Shield race for most of the summer, for the Black-and-Red, there were plenty of positives to take from the defeat to Columbus.
United is now tasked with taking those positives, and putting them to use in a trip to Canada to face the Montreal Impact, the last team that United beat in MLS play.
"It was a good week of training. Good vibes. I think we're all committed to getting out of this rut we're in," United manager Ben Olsen said on Friday. "Results are important right now, but so are performances, and the way we go about games. So we're focusing on both of those this week, and making sure we're gearing up for [the playoffs]."
The rut that United is currently in is one that hasn't been seen around these parts since the mostly forgettable 2013 season. In 2014, when the team won the Eastern Conference during the regular season, United had just two streaks of three games without a win in league play.
This year, in addition to the current five game streak, the Black-and-Red have a three game skid to their name as well. In fact, since their win on June 24th against the Chicago Fire, United have won just three of their last 11 games in the league.
"It's not been the greatest run of form. But we've got four games left now to get things going before the playoffs," United midfielder Chris Pontius told B&RU. "We talked about that this week, being positive, having the right mindset going into Montreal, and we need a result there. We need to start kicking things back into gear."
"This team has shown over the last two years, that when times are tough, they have the ability to be above the negativity, and get through the negative moments of the season," Olsen added. "This will pass, hopefully sooner rather than later. But I never question the character of this group, or it's ability to crash through adversity."
Against Columbus, United looked just about as good as they had since the 6-4 win against Real Salt Lake on August 1st. Since then, the Black-and-Red had scored just three goals in five games. Against Columbus, the offense had a spark that had been missing, even though the result didn't quite match up.
"We're in a rut. I feel like we are moving out of it. I feel like we had a good performance last weekend, [just] didn't get the result we wanted. I feel like it's important for us to build off of that," said Olsen. "There was a lot to that game that we liked. And our plan is to build on that."
United now head up to the Quebec to face Montreal, where United somehow escaped with a 1-0 back in early August, despite only registering one shot the entire game. That Montreal team will look quite different, as Frank Klopas was relieved of his duties in between then and now, with Mauro Biello taking the reigns on an interim basis.
And Didier Drogba, who had already joined Montreal when United last visited, but wasn't fit enough to play, has begun his reign of terror in MLS. With just five appearances, and four starts under his belt, the prolific Ivorian has already netted five times for Montreal, including a hat trick against the Chicago Fire three weeks ago.
"I think they've been good all year. Their depth is as good as anyone's in the league. Their not afraid to use [their depth]. There seems to be a new energy about the club with the arrival of Drogba. A new belief," Olsen said. "It's a different team, it's a different club. That's how powerful a guy like Drogba is, on the field and off. We're looking forward to going there, I'm sure it will be a great atmosphere, and they're flying, so we'd like to spoil the party."