Players still confident despite two-goal deficit
The calm that has descended over D.C. United stands in stark contrast to the raucous, packed lower bowl at RFK Stadium that will greet the second leg of the MLS Eastern Conference finals.
A season ago, United was tied for the fewest home wins in the league, a mere four victories in 17 matches. In 2012, walking underneath a sign that says, "Take Back RFK," on the way to the field before every game, United won more than anyone else at home en route to a franchise-record unbeaten streak of 17 matches and a scoring average of more than two goals per game.
They'll need at least that many just to force overtime against the Houston Dynamo after a 3-1 loss in the first match of the series last weekend. But to hear them tell it, the goals will come and the pressure is squarely on the visitors.
|Dynamo at United|
|Eastern Conference finals|
|Game 2 (Dynamo up 3-1)|
|When » Sunday, 4 p.m.|
|Where » RFK Stadium|
|TV » NBC Sports Network|
"Who is to say we can't come out and put pressure on Houston's neck this Sunday," United goalkeeper Bill Hamid said. "A lot of people are counting us out, but they've been counting us out this whole playoffs. We're going to do what we do, what D.C. United does. We're going to come out with the belief that Ben Olsen puts in us and get a result."
Completing his second full season as a coach, Olsen has transferred the dogged, determined spirit that helped define his playing career to his players. But tough tactical questions remain. While Dwayne De Rosario (seven goals, 12 assists) is expected to be available for the first time since a knee injury in early September, Chris Pontius (12 goals) was limited all week by a groin injury which forced him out of the first game against Houston after just 12 minutes.
"We're confident in the way we play at home," Olsen said. "All year we've been aggressive and we've gone after teams and scored goals at home. That part doesn't necessarily need to change. We need to score goals, though, so there is a little bit of a different mindset going into this game."
There's a similarly subtle shift rippling throughout the franchise. Despite finishing second to last in MLS attendance (13,846), the lowest in the team's 17-year existence, Sunday's game will give United a reduced capacity crowd of 19,647 in two of its last three matches.
The team also continues to make progress in its pursuit of a stadium deal with the District. United and city officials have already met with Akridge about land assembly for their desired plot in Southwest. They'll do the same with Pepco soon. A meeting with the energy company was postponed by superstorm Sandy, but even if that means a stadium deal isn't reached by the end of the year, it could come shortly thereafter.
It sets the stage for what could be an extraordinary time for United to host MLS Cup on Dec. 1 if they topple the Dynamo. Since the two-game, total-goals format was set nine years ago, two of nine teams have overcome two-goal deficits after the first leg. Maybe it sounds somewhat unlikely, but what hasn't been that way this season?
"They've shown they can win in different kind of games, different sorts of ways, with different players," United assistant coach Chad Ashton said. "Most importantly, not us but they believe they can do it. When you believe, big time things can happen."