The friendly with Paris St. Germain was fun, but D.C. United is hoping the 1-1 tie with the French league giant was also productive. The answer will play out in Saturday's home game against revitalized Eastern Conference rival Columbus Crew.
"I think by the way we played this is a boost of confidence," Dwayne De Rosario said after last Saturday's match. "If we can play with teams like PSG, then we can play with any team. We just have to show up and play with that same confidence."
United's play on the field has matched the uneven summer schedule. In five games over the last two months United managed only an uninspired 1-0 win against Philadelphia and a 3-0 win over Montreal. In July a ten-man United lost to Houston 4-0 and most recently in MLS play a 1-0 road loss to the Crew.
On the heels of the losses to the Dynamo and Crew, United's head coach Ben Olsen wanted the approach to PSG to be like a league match. United had lost its swagger. The rhythm and possession that led the Black and Red to the top of the Eastern Conference were missing. The game against PSG allowed United to play without the pressure of failure.
"I thought our possession was as good as it has been all year," Olsen noted. "It was because of the fact that we just played simple. We didn't complicate, we just got the ball to the next guy and gave the next guy more time on the ball. Everybody wanted the ball and we were confident."
The match against PSG comes with all kinds of qualifiers. It was only a friendly and PSG had only played a couple of pre-season games. Still PSG offered a side worth several hundred million dollars and after conceding an early goal to Zlatan Ibrahimovic, United not only responded but dictated much of the possession.
Against PSG United used the now familiar set up of Dwayne De Rosario playing below the striker and Branko Boskovic in the center of the midfield. Their ability to link together is a driving force in United's way of playing, but it is also critical for outside backs Danel Woolard and Chris Korb to be involved.
"The coaches want to play attacking, quality soccer," Korb said. "I think that comes into play with outside backs getting forward and I think that is why they like me in some games and some spots. That doesn't hurt me at all. I just want to get better going forward and get more assists and help the team win."
In his second year in MLS, Korb is starting at right back in place of Robbie Russell who is out with plantar fasciitis. Over the last season and a half Korb has found himself in the starting eleven twenty times and is growing in confidence. On the left side, with Marc Burch now in Seattle, Woolard has seized the opportunity and become a valuable and versatile defender.
On Saturday United will be looking to avenge its loss in Columbus two weeks ago. On the season the Crew's offense has been anemic with only 20 goals from 19 matches. There is hope for the Crew with the arrival of Jairo Arrieta from Saprissa in Costa Rica. In his third match with the Crew, Arrieta netted two goals in a 2-1 win over Sporting Kansas City.
The Crew has played one fewer game, but is only five points behind United in the Eastern Conference standings. Like United, the Crew is also energized by success in a friendly, a 2-1 win over Stoke City. Both teams believe they are ready for the finals three months of the MLS season.
"It is our responsibility to win games at home," said Olsen. "Yes we have lost three of four games, but they are away games. You have to take care of home games and you will be okay in this league."