By THOMAS FLOYD
WASHINGTON — D.C. United’s beleaguered attack is about to get a substantial lift out wide.
Nick DeLeon (hamstring) will make the game-day roster Wednesday against the Houston Dynamo, coach Ben Olsen confirmed Tuesday, while fellow winger Chris Pontius (groin) said he will make his return by Saturday’s trip to face FC Dallas.
For a United team that sits at 1-6-1 and has scored just four goals this season, the return of a Rookie of the Year finalist in DeLeon on the right flank and a Best XI attacker in Pontius on the left is a most welcome development.
DeLeon, sidelined since late March with a hamstring ailment, has been training at full speed for a week. And Pontius, who suffered his mild groin injury two weeks ago, participated in full training Tuesday without any issues.
“Tomorrow is still kind of up in the air,” Pontius said. “But I’d say the weekend is definitely for sure.”
Added Olsen: ”We’re still evaluating him. We’ll take a day and see where he’s at. We’ve got a quick turnaround in Dallas. We’ve got to gauge that a little bit.”
After pushing himself too hard and ultimately suffering a more significant groin strain on the opposite leg during a November playoff game against Houston, Pontius doesn’t want to take any unnecessary chances this time around.
“I learned my lesson very hard last year in Houston,” Pontius said. “So it’s been easier in that sense. I wanted to be in that game so bad, but long term it was a very, very stupid call on my part. So this one I’m being much more careful with.”
Here are some more notes from RFK Stadium on Tuesday:
SET PIECE DEFENSE A CONCERN
United this season have conceded goals on four corner kicks, a free kick, a penalty kick and a throw-in, leading Olsen to make set-piece defense a priority — especially with Brad Davis and the Dynamo coming to town.
“We’ve given up seven goals on set pieces. If you do that, you’re going to find yourself in last place,” Olsen said. “It’s been mistakes on the first one, it’s been mistakes on the second bites. Teams have been a little hungrier than we’ve been.”
Although some clubs have adopted a zone scheme on defensive set pieces, United are utilizing a traditional man-to-man system.
“You have to be strong and make sure you know where your man is and where the ball is at,” midfielder Perry Kitchen said. “Even if you’re with your guy, if the ball is 2 or 3 feet away from you and you have your guy, go win the ball. I think it’s just a matter of sniffing the ball out, knowing where the danger is at.”
LOOKING FOR CONFIDENCE AT HOME
A year after “Take back RFK” was a refrain in the locker room, opponents have found points in the nation’s capital much easier to come by.
Since United extended their unbeaten run at RFK Stadium to 19 games with a 1-0 win over Real Salt Lake on March 9, D.C. has gone 0-3 at home, conceding seven goals along the way.
“We can’t be giving away points like that at home,” Pontius said. “So it’s frustrating in that sense. We need to get to that mentality, that confidence about us that when we step on the field, we know what we’re going to do, we’re going to take care of business here. And you haven’t necessarily felt that this year. That needs to come back. I think people underestimate how big confidence is in a sport. But we need to find it this year with this group.”
DYNAMO OFFER TOUGH TASK
While United have enjoyed a 10-day break from MLS action, the Dynamo are coming off a 1-0 victory at Los Angeles late Sunday night. But United don’t expect to have a leg up because of Houston’s quick turnaround and cross-country trip.
“We go about things the same,” Kitchen said. “We’ll most likely see them have a tighter shape, sit back a little bit, but we’re prepared for anything.”
Added Olsen: “They’re a very deep team. They know how to get results when they’re tired.”
Striker Casey Townsend, who has split time between United and third-tier Richmond, will make the 18-man roster against Houston, Olsen said. … The match Wednesday has been moved in the D.C. area from CSN to CSN+ to accommodate the Washington Capitals’ playoff game.
How big a boost will getting DeLeon and Pontius back be for United? How high a priority should set pieces be? And what do United need to do to get back on track at home?
Share your thoughts below.