R.F.K Stadium is big, but on the field space will be at a premium for D.C United in Saturday's home match against the Houston Dynamo. An organized and disciplined Dynamo side has found a way to 8 points from 5 matches and will test United's six-game unbeaten run.
"They (Houston) know each other very well," said United head coach Ben Olsen. "You don't get a lot of chances against Houston, you never do. You have to take advantage of those few opportunities you have."
Olsen's standing desire to have his team switch the point of attack will be especially important against the Dynamo. An offense without invention or creativity will struggle against the Dynamo's defense that is particularly strong in the middle with central defenders Geoff Cameron and Bobby Boswell.
United's flank players, which likely again will include Danny Cruz and Nick De Leon, will be needed to help the stretch the field. In addition United could use its outside backs to help in the attack. That is not the strength of left back Daniel Woolard, but it's possible for right back Robbie Russell to pick his spots and go forward.
Heading into Saturday's match United's offense is showing plenty of signs of life. Now playing at forward, Chris Pontius had his first career hat trick in Sunday's 4-1 win over New York and was named the MLS Player-of-the-Week. United is averaging nearly 15 shots per contest, and that means goals -- United has 12 on the season, trailing only New York (17) and San Jose (13).
On defense, United worked extensively on set pieces this week. The Dynamo has only 5 goals on the season, but two have come off corner kicks. However United should be confident with only eight goals allowed this season compared to 19 goals conceded at the same time last year.
"It's been a good run but we have long way to go," Olsen said. "We are starting to become a group that is tough to play against and that is committed every time that we step on the field. Now the soccer part and all the intricacies need to get a little better and sharper and I think k that will come with time. We are still a group that is new."
The work rate of United forward Maicon Santos is proving to be a critical ingredient in the Black and Red's early success. Santos has 4 goals and 1 assist to lead the team, but his active play has led to other goals and scoring chances. At 6'1'' and 186 pounds Santos gives United a different dynamic.
"He (Santos) gives us that physical presence that we have been missing up there," Olsen added. "Guys are doing a good job of playing off of him and that's one side of it. The other side is he is putting the ball in the back of the net. On the defensive side, he is working hard to put their backs under pressure and create turnovers."
Along with drawing attention for their six game unbeaten run, United is raising eyebrows for accomplishing it without goals from reigning league MVP Dwayne De Rosario, who is operating out of the midfield and not at forward. Through eight matches this season only four players in MLS have taken more shots. Still despite having 26 shots De Rosario remains goalless.
"He is in a different spot," Olsen explained. "No doubt if you pout De Ro right around the goal for 90 minutes he is going to get his goals. Right now we need him in the midfield. We are looking for him to be our rhythm guy to get the ball and get us out of pressure and be a link guy and then came late to play in and around the goal."
Saturday is an important test for United. Next week United travels to San Jose on Wednesday and Toronto on Saturday. Then on May 12 United will be in Houston when the Dynamo opens its new stadium. Three points at home are vital for United in an Eastern Conference table that is crowded below first place Sporting Kansas City.