By the time that D.C. United takes the field on Saturday night against the Colorado Rapids, it will have been a full two weeks since their last match - a 3-0 loss to the New York Red Bulls, their most bitter rivals - that has left the team in a sour mood.
Even after having several days off and no game last weekend, the loss lingers. United conceded valuable ground to their nemesis in the race for the Eastern Conference regular season title in a game which was never really in doubt after Lloyd Sam gave the Metros the lead in the first half.
"I haven't [gotten over it]. It still pisses me off. Hopefully it still pisses our guys off," United manager Ben Olsen told Black-and-Red United after practice on Tuesday. "I don't care what we take into the next game, but it's got to be better than what we showed in New York."
That loss to the Red Bulls concluded a peculiar month for the Black-and-Red. In a full month with seven games, United finished the month with a winning record. But with two of those wins coming in CONCACAF Champions League play, and with the month ending in a three-game losing streak in MLS play, there are some worries creeping into the side coming down the final stretch. That means the trip west to face the Rapids is even more important for United than it might have been a couple of weeks ago.
"We're gearing up for an important week against a good team in Colorado. [We're] playing them at a time when they seem to be playing some of their best stuff of the season. But that's how it goes," said Olsen. We need a result, and we got a busy two week stretch here with the CONCACAF [games]. It's an important two weeks."
While still atop the Eastern Conference, the swoon in league play has seen United's lead dwindle. The Red Bulls are two points behind but have three games in hand. The onus on the team is now to fix what went wrong in New Jersey, and finding a way to get back to the things that made United so successful at the beginning of the season.
"Everyone is [still] upset. It wasn't a good performance by us. So we're obviously not happy with it, and probably never will be" defender Bobby Boswell said of the team's performance against the Red Bulls. "We have to learn from it. You always remember your last game, so the break wasn't necessarily great, in terms of how we ended [that stretch of games]. But if we use it the right way and focus, it'll make us better."
While Olsen believes that United need a result at Dick's Sporting Goods Park on Saturday, and that there are areas of concern in his team with regards to their form, the longest tenured manager in United history is now focused on how his team responds to the recent struggles.
With six games remaining in the league, coupled with the last two Champions League games, Olsen says that there is plenty of time to right the slide is team is currently in.
"Its nothing that every team in this league hasn't gone through. We've had, for the most part, good stretches this year," said Olsen. "We're going through a little dip in form right now. You're going to hit this slide at some point in the season. It's how quickly we can get out of it, and start to improve and get our rhythm back."
United will be buoyed this weekend by the return of talisman Fabian Espindola. The striker has missed the past four MLS games with an injury picked up in training but practiced Tuesday, and Olsen said that the Argentinian was "good to go" for the weekend.
Espindola's presence was sorely missed as United managed just two goals in the four games that he missed, but overall in 2015 United has managed well enough without the former Real Salt Lake and NYRB player. Espindola has played just 11 MLS games this season due suspension and injury.
"Our record speaks for itself when he's playing versus when he's not. He's a guy who creates for us, and scores the big goals when we need them," Boswell said of Espindola. "We've had a lot of different line ups this year, and it's not always easy having new guys in and out every week. It'll be nice to have one of our cogs back in there to pull the strings and give us some stuff going forward."