WASHINGTON, November 14, 2012 — D.C. United coach Ben Olsen has surprised many this season in Major League Soccer, leading his club to the playoffs for the first time since 2007. After all, United was the worst team in the league two years ago. Olsen, a former United legend, got his team into the postseason without the use of his key striker Dwayne de Rosario, who came down injured over two months ago. United hasn’t played the prettiest of soccer, but Olsen, a street philosopher of the sport, has been able to patch a team of committed and hard-working players together. He has also made some smart substitutions and player moves on the field. Now, Olsen, who is proving to be a talented and shrewd coach, faces his toughest challenge. His club is 3-1 down to the Houston Dynamo after the first leg of the home-and-away Eastern Conference finals. United will need to overturn the two-goal deficit in Sunday’s game at RFK Stadium to tie the series, or take it two penalty kicks.
“These stakes we haven’t had in a while,” said Olsen after the loss to Dynamo last Sunday. “The beauty of it is we can score two goals, especially knowing that we need to score two goals.”
United is one game away from the MLS Cup having rode all sorts of trials in the last few weeks. The team had to deal with a wild semifinal series against the New York Red Bulls that was hampered by Hurricane Sandy, and saw two of its key players earn suspensions. But Olsen’s and United’s luck seemed to run out in the Houston game, especially after Dynamo ace Andre Hainault stayed on the field after what looked like a red-card challenge.
The good news for Olsen is that De Rosario will be back for the game on Sunday to face his old club. De Rosario came down with an injury playing for Canada early in September. The reigning league MVP has not played in two months and there’s a question about his fitness. There’s also a big question about Chris Pontius, United’s key striker this year, who left the game against the Dynamo in the 12th minute with a groin problem.
United is one banged-up and tired team. It will need all the help it can get to salvage its chances to get into the MLS Cup final. There is the incentive, that if United does get past Houston, the team would host the MLS Cup at RFK. To do that, United needs to score an early goal in order to boost confidence and get the crowd behind them.
“We can’t sit back, we’ve got to press,” said United rookie midfielder Nick DeLeon, who has been a revelation this season. “RFK is a fortress, we always seem to be on top of our game there so I don’t have any worries,” “I know we can win by two or more goals against this team.”
United has already sold 17,000 tickets for the game.
Houston is also a team that has been missing key players, but two starters - defender Jermaine Taylor and forward Calen Carr - will likely be back on the field to face United.
* For 20 years John Haydon wrote a weekly soccer column for The Washington Times. He has covered two World Cups and written about Major League Soccer from the league’s inception in 1996.
Follow John on Twitter at @Johnahaydon
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