The Bad Hombres FC – Episode 15: DCU News, Lavelle leaving? and CONCACAF

Featuring  José Umaña and Mario Amaya

Tune in for The Bad Hombres Podcast every week on Thursdays at 8 p.m. as soccer journalists José Umaña and Mario Amaya talk on the main topics dealing with D.C. United, Washington Spirit and any soccer news in the DMV.

United out of MLS is Back Tournament after losing to Montreal

By José Umaña/The Sports Pulse Contributor
Photo by Matthew Stith/Major League Soccer

WASHINGTON – From false-positive coronavirus tests and multiple schedule changes, D.C. United has gone through a roller-coaster experience during its trip to the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida, for the MLS is Back Tournament.

The off-the-field calamities did not add extra fuel to the Black-and-Red’s play once the group stage began. Despite all the negatives, United earned two draws, putting itself in a position to control its destiny. One win against the Montreal Impact Tuesday night separated United from a place in the knockout round.

Instead, United’s lack of attack stunned goal-scoring opportunities. An inadvertent deflection for the game’s only goal was enough to seal their fate as D.C. United lost to their Canadian opponents 1-0, knocking themselves out the tournament.

July 21, 2020: Montreal Impact defender Jorge Corrales gains possession of the ball away D.C. United’s Julian Gressel during an MLS is Back Tournament game in Orlando, Fl. (Xavier Dussaq/D.C. United)

D.C. (1-2-2) leaves Orlando with more questions than answers. It finished group play in last place with two points and no wins. With the group stage matches transferring over to their regular-season record, United ends their Walt Disney trip sitting in ninth place in the Eastern Conference.

Thoughts of the future were not immediately on the minds of head coach Ben Olsen and his players following the match. Even after only having three days off between games, Olsen said he did not think his players were overly fatigue heading to their match against Montreal (2-2-1).

“When you’re here, and you’re caught up in it, and you want to be in this tournament, and you want to advance to the group stage.” Olsen said. “You want your three points, and you want your points for the regular season, so we’re disappointed in both of those parts of today.”

“I think we felt pretty good actually,” defender Steve Birnbaum said. “You know everyone’s in the same boat. It’s no disadvantage to anyone. Obviously, it’s the way the tournament is set up, and it’s a little awkward for everyone.”

Three changes were made from United’s starting lineup that played against New England on Saturday. Peruvian midfielder Edison Flores was out due to a hamstring injury but Junior Moreno returned to start after serving a red-card suspension. Former University of Maryland star defender Chris Odoi-Atsem made his first start in over a year, replacing Oneil Fisher at left back. 

Early on, United fired multiple shots, including a right-footed attempt by Ulises Segura that flew over the crossbar. Other attempts were quickly stopped by the Impact defense.

In the 31st minute, Montreal’s Saphir Taider attempted a long-range shot, which bounced off defender Frederick Brillant and flew past a stretched-out Bill Hamid for the game’s only goal.

As the match continued, United struggled offensively. Despite having more shots (12-7) than Montreal, only three were on target. D.C. brought more firepower in second half with midfielders Federico Higuaín and Kevin Paredes and striker Ola Kamara entering the game. Their influence was limited and did not trouble goalkeeper Clément Diop.

“I felt like we were ready as a group today,” Birnbaum said. “We had good training before this, and we had a good game plan going into it, we just didn’t execute.”

The tournament was, Olsen said, a realization of the team’s lack of depth in talent and it will be important to add “a player or two” during the transfer window. However, when asked about the lack of team chemistry, Olsen shrugged the question off, repeating the word “no” multiple times.

United will take the next few days off after returning to D.C. and regroup for training next week. With the future of how the rest of the regular season’s schedule will look like going forward, United needs to be ready for the next challenge.

“We’ll wait for the league to see what’s next, whether it’s another tournament, whether it’s a league, Eastern/Western Conference setup, regional league games. I’m not exactly sure,” Olsen said. “But I know right now, we will get back, and we’ll get training and try to get better.”

The Sports Pulse’s Mario Amaya contributed to this story.

Higuaín’s second-half goal helps United earn 1-1 draw over New England

By Mario Amaya/The Sports Pulse Contributor

Photo by Xavi Dussaq/D.C. United

Federico Higuaín’s goal in the 72nd minute was enough to help D.C. United manage a 1-1 draw against the New England Revolution Friday night in Orlando, Florida, in Group C play in the MLS is Back Tournament.

United was down a goal once the veteran midfielder entered the game in the second half. It would only take three minutes for Higuaín to make an impact as he intercepted an attempted back pass from New England defender Antonio Delamea Mlinar to goalkeeper Matt Turner.

Higuaín took the ball and quickly connected a low strike past Turner to help United tie the game. Since joining the club in March, the 35-year-old has attempted to prove that he still can be a high-level contributor after suffering an ACL injury last year with the Columbus Crew SC.

In two tournament games, Higuaín has shown to be an asset for United off the bench, scoring twice in critical moments.

“This is probably the first time in his life that he has been considered a super sub,” Head coach Ben Olsen said. “He is a guy who is always the focal point of a team from the beginning, and you build around him, but that is the mindset he has and the attitude he has had since coming here, his willingness to do his best to the team.”

With the result, the Black-and-Red ends the second round of group matches in third place (two points) behind Toronto FC and New England (four points).

United made multiple changes from the starting 11 that played in their 2-2 draw against Toronto FC on Monday. Defender Oneil Fisher made his first start since Sept. 29, 2018, due to a year-and-a-half-long knee injury. Argentine Yamil Asad took Ulises Segura’s spot in the midfield.

Lastly, Erik Sorga, a 20-year-old striker from Estonia, made his first start for United after Ola Kamara sustained a quad injury. 

New England Revolution defender Antonio Delamea Mlinar (left) delivers a pass as D.C. United’s Ulises Segura (right) attempts a late challenge during a MLS is Back Tournament match on July 17. Photo by Matthew Stith/Major League Soccer

After a scoreless first half, New England would find the back of the net first. An attempted shot from midfielder Cristian Penilla rebounded off a United player and landed in front of Adam Buksa. The striker headed the ball over a diving Bill Hamid for a Revolution goal.

 “It’s frustrating going down 1-0 and having to fight from behind again,” United midfielder Russell Canouse said. “But there is a big belief in this team, a good mentality.”

United bounced back with Higuaín’s goal, putting themselves in position to advance with a win over Montreal Impact in their final group match on Tuesday, July 21, at 10:30 p.m.

“It’s good for us,” United captain Steve Birnbaum said. “Right now, we control our own destiny…We have to get something out of this game, and we know it.”

Olsen shares thoughts of adapting to new lifestyle during COVID-19 stoppage

By José Umaña/The Sports Pulse Contributor

WASHINGTON – D.C. United Head Coach Ben Olsen recalled facing a police officer when attempting to take his three kids to the park. After being inside all day, the former midfielder wanted them to release their energy.

However, the park, along with other public spaces, was closed down as city officials promoted the public to stay home.

Olsen elected to set up an obstacle course by moving the trash cans in the alley behind his Washington, D.C. home. It was part of a new reality living under a worldwide pandemic.

“For everybody, it is an odd time,” Olsen said. “Everybody is dealing with this differently.”

In a wide-ranging, hour-long teleconference call, Olsen shared his thoughts, emotions, and feelings on steering the ship for the Black-and-Red during the league-wide stoppage due to the coronavirus, known as COVID-19.

After earning a 2-1 comeback victory over Inter Miami FC on March 7, United (1-1-0, 3 points) prepared to travel to face FC Cincinnati the following week. However, everything changed on March 11 when NBA player Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19.

Major League Soccer (MLS) announced its decision to stop the season on the following day until it is safe to play. As of Apr. 4, the Center for Disease Control announced that have been 222.205 cases in the United States, with 6,593 people dead.

Since the stoppage, Olsen, his coaching staff and players meet on a weekly video conference, discussing their physical and mental well-being. Analyzing game footage from the start of March was no longer available as players are not able to practice together. Also, some of the team’s new offseason signings, like designated player Edison Flores, are still adapting to the area.

The calls vary, from indoor training methods to social media ideas to engage fans. Stay-at-home orders have limited players’ access to work out while others miss the interaction between teammates. Ultimately, the goal of the conference calls is to keep the team’s chemistry and comradery intact, Olsen said.

“There are all these hurdles that they are coming up against, and we are constantly adapting to our new reality,” Olsen said. “On the call, you try to build a little chemistry; you try to build a little culture and continue team bonding, but it is difficult. How do you it over Zoom with 30 guys on there. It is a difficult challenge.”

While the stoppage has allowed for injured players to heal without missing playing time, Olsen said their recovery process has slowed down. The league set a training moratorium through Apr. 24 that closed all teams’ training facilities to players and coaches expect through requiring treatment or physical rehab.

Defender Donovan Pines (University of Maryland) and midfielder Federico Higuaín stood out in making significant strides before the stoppage. Pines suffered an ankle injury during the preseason. Higuaín, added to the roster in March, was on schedule on his recovery from an MCL tear injury, with his returned scheduled for May.

“Usually, we have our experts with them every day to speed up the healing process,” Olsen said. “That’s not the case now. I give our trainers, doctors, sports scientists, and fitness coaches a lot of credit as of late. They’ve been working extremely hard to come up with the right workouts, right treatments.”

Meanwhile, the break has its benefits for his personal life, the nine-year head coach stated. Once the MLS season starts, Olsen’s time is primarily on training, working with his coaching staff, and packing for road games.

Now, he has had more time to be with his family, joining them on hikes and sitdown dinners. For alone time, he hides to paint at his studio.
At a time where people are losing their jobs – or their lives – Olsen understands his situation.

“I have a job, my family is healthy, and there is food in the cupboards,” Olsen said. “I am very lucky that I am able to do that and focus on being a husband and a father right now in a time where I am usually not a good husband or father.”

The last time MLS experienced a prolonged delay occurred after the 2001 terrorist attacks in 2001. The league canceled the final two weeks of the season and began its playoffs nine days later. This year, MLS started its 25th season on Feb. 29, the earliest start in its history.

Olsen recommended that the league allow a mini-camp before restarting regular-season matches to get players back into playing shape. It may require MLS to play through international breaks as well as having the playoffs and final in late-November into December.

Until the pandemic slows down to allow training to resume, all Olsen can do is check in on his players and be patient.

“We try to control everything, from our diet, training loads, you name it,” Olsen said. “We are constantly trying to control everything so these guys can be at their most optimal levels, and to not being able to do that is a little bit frustrating, but it is out of my control. There is no playbook, and it is a difficult thing to do, but at some point, it is about being healthy.”