Ben Olsen believes additions will inject energy into D.C. United
Ben Olsen has become well-versed in the art of the midseason shakeup.
Since the longtime midfielder took over as coach midway through the 2010 season, D.C. United has bolstered its starting lineup while parting ways with a key player or two nearly every summer.
It was Dwayne De Rosario and Brandon McDonald joining the team in 2011. The following year brought Lionard Pajoy to the squad. In 2013 Luis Silva and Jared Jeffrey arrived, and last season featured the acquisition of Alvaro Saborio.
This summer has been no different. After trading for midfielder Lloyd Sam from the New York Red Bulls earlier this month, United bolstered its front line by adding former Maryland striker Patrick Mullins from New York City FC last week.
“I think a little injection of energy and freshness midway through the season is always healthy,” Olsen said. “They both came here with a really good mentality, a real good energy about them and they’re excited for fresh starts.”
United, which sent allocation money to the Red Bulls and NYCFC, helped balance the books by receiving cash from the Vancouver Whitecaps in exchange for veteran forward Fabian Espindola. Although the highly paid 31-year-old who Vancouver then sold to Mexican club Necaxa had struggled to find a rhythm alongside prized offseason signing Luciano Acosta, he remains tied for the D.C. lead with four goals in 2016.
Since United (5-8-7) is sitting four points out of a playoff spot and owns the league’s second-worst attack, the pressure is on for the club’s newcomers to produce promptly. Many MLS teams look abroad for reinforcements. United hopes that acquiring players from within the league breeds familiarity.
“It’s always tough, but I have confidence in the players that we’ve brought, especially them being from MLS teams,” midfielder Patrick Nyarko said. “It makes it a lot easier. They’ve played against us a lot so they know our players a lot scouting reports and stuff like that. So I have confidence.”
Sam, 31, represents a well-known commodity. He compiled 20 goals and 22 assists for the Red Bulls since signing with United’s rival late in the 2012 season. The English-born winger, who debuted for the Ghana national team last year, has presented a welcome threat from the right flank while starting United’s past two matches.
“The way he gets service off gives us a chance, and now we’ve got to get on the end of things,” Olsen said. “Too many times we look up and it’s one guy in the box. We’ve got to get two and ideally three in the box if we’re going to start scoring more goals.”
One player looking to connect with Sam’s crosses is Mullins. The Hermann Trophy winner as college soccer’s top player in 2012 and 2013, the 24-year-old has shown glimpses of that potential when scoring 10 goals over three MLS seasons with the New England Revolution and NYCFC.
Since 34-year-old striker Alvaro Saborio is scoreless since mid-May and reserve Alhaji Kamara is sidelined by a right hamstring strain, Mullins could be in line for the type of consistent playing time that has proved elusive thus far in his MLS career.
“All that matters is getting out here, putting in the work with the guys, getting the right feeling of when you’re flowing,” Mullins said. “That takes a couple of trainings to do, but we’re trying to expedite it as quickly as possible.”
That sense of urgency is no surprise for a United team that has scored just 19 goals in 20 matches entering a four-game home stand, which kicks off against the Montreal Impact (7-5-8) on Sunday at RFK Stadium.
As the personnel turnover grinds to a halt and players adjust to the retooled roster, Olsen now wants to see his team make the jump from work-in-progress to finished product.
“It’s a very important August for us, and I think we’ll respond,” Olsen said. “I still like this team, especially now that we’re incorporating some of the new guys and we’re narrowing in on what our best group is.”