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D.C. United faces tough scheduling, limited recovery days

D.C. United’s depth will be tested in the middle of a tough three-game stretch that continues with road games against Toronto FC and Houston Dynamo

May 12, 2019; Washington, D.C., USA; D.C. United forward Wayne Rooney (9) dribbles up the field during the second half against the Sporting Kansas City at Audi Field. (Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports)

WASHINGTON, DC — D.C. United has had an impressive run on the road this season.

After playing the majority of last year’s end-of-season stretch at Audi Field, United has excelled on the road this season with a record of 3-1-1. 

This week is the first road trip of the season that extends three games. United played Kansas City Sunday, travels to Toronto Wednesday and then Houston for a game on Saturday. They get a quick break after Houston before facing New England Revolution on the road. Coach Ben Olsen has made it clear the scheduling is not ideal.

“We have had a lot of Sunday games,” Olsen said. “Sometimes that means, on a busy week, you don’t get the three days in between. It is a big difference, however, it is what it is … I do think it is something that should ever happen in a league.”

While Toronto has a little more recovery time than United, Houston also has three games in eight days.

“If you want to put the teams in the same situation, that is a different story,” Olsen said. “I am sympathetic to the league scheduling and how difficult it is. I am seeing the matrix they are trying to put together with stadium availability and international breaks. It is not easy.”

Olsen is quite familiar with the challenges of a Major League Soccer season as a player and a coach. Meanwhile, this will be the first compact road test for captain Wayne Rooney. He is confident that the team can handle the trip.

“I think people make a bit too much of it. It’s a flight Tuesday and a flight Thursday to Houston then the game’s over and you fly back. So it’s two flights where you have to prepare and get ready for the game which is part of your job,” Rooney said. “When you got four kids at home you get used to flying with four kids, then any flight is easy without them.”

United will need every player available to compete this week. In additional to Joseph Mora’s injury (jaw), defensive midfielder Júnior Moreno will not be available Wednesday. Moreno traveled back to South America to be with family in the wake of his father’s death.

United alway planned to keep U-20 call-up Chris Durkin through this week before releasing him for the World Cup in Poland. That said, in the absence of Moreno, Durkin will likely get more minutes and the start against Toronto.

In addition to the change in midfield, United has to once again use a mix of defensive personnel.

“[Toronto is] lethal in the attack. They have Jozy [Altidore] and [Alejandro] Pozuelo up there,” defender Steve Birnbaum said. “We have to go in with the road mentality that we have been going in with, which is grinding it out and trying to get a result.”

Birnbaum had to manage the changing formations and players in a short span of time. He and center back Frederic Brillant have been the two constants in the backline.

“We have played different formations before,” Birnbaum said. “Last year, we were strictly like a four back. This year is different with injuries and causes to switch formations. It is something nice to have in our back pocket that we can adapt.”

For three games, after Mora went down, Homegrown player Donovan Pines was between Birnbaum and Brillant. Last week, Birnbaum moved back centrally with United’s newest signing, Marquinhos Pedroso, slotting in at left back.

“Donovan is a younger guy. It is just one of those things where I try to give him as much information as possible. Communicating with a center back and a left back is a lot different,” Birnbaum said. “With Marquinhos, it is more about the formation we are defending in. He is not a young player. But to our system, he is new.”

As close to game time as warm ups, Birnbaum and Moreno were working with Pedroso on communication and runs before the 1-0 win over Sporting Kansas City.

“Before the [Kansas City] game we were just hashing out the final details. Maybe the first 15 minutes in the game you kind of just feel each other out and understand their tendencies,” Birnbaum said. “He is more of a true left back and those other guys want to attack and fly forward. It makes my life a lot easier when he does stay back”

On the other side of the field, United will be lining up against former winger/right back Nick DeLeon. United did not exercise the option in the fan-favorite’s contract.

Deleon told reporters in Toronto this week that the game is “a little bittersweet, but I definitely want to take it to them. Grudge is a good word to use. I can’t lose this game, put it that way.”

Match Information

When: Wednesday, 8 p.m. ET

Where: BMO Field — Toronto, Ontario

Streaming: FloSports or ESPN+

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