D.C. United took the rare opportunity on Thursday to practice defending corner kicks. It's not something that teams do every week, but it is of particular concern when preparing to host the Houston Dynamo, an opponent known for their success at set pieces.
What made United's training session more remarkable was that it was open. In contrast to the usual closed-door, secretive machinations that often come with specialized work, United has little to hide as it rides a six-match unbeaten streak -- its longest in more than three years. Coach Ben Olsen's starting lineup is as solidified as it has been all season while quality play has been in abundance as reserves have pushed starters in practice.
"It's a real good environment right now," United midfielder Dwayne De Rosario said. "We just want to keep it positive and keep it competitive."
|United vs. Dynamo|
|When » Saturday, 7:30 p.m.|
|Where » RFK Stadium|
|TV » CSN|
In fact, D.C. (3-2-3) has started to resemble the Dynamo (2-1-2), a team that embodies the spirit of coach Dominic Kinnear, who cultivates intense, close-knit and results-driven squads that aren't overly concerned with style and flair. The Dynamo nearly won their third MLS Cup title since 2006 last season after missing the playoffs for first time in seven years in 2010.
"He demands a lot out of you," said United midfield Danny Cruz, who spent his first three MLS seasons under Kinnear in Houston. "I think every player that goes there buys into that. That's why they're successful. He'll admit it's not the prettiest soccer, but it gets the job done, and at the end of the day, they don't ask how we got to MLS Cup last year. They ask who got to MLS Cup."
That mentality also suits De Rosario. The reigning Major League Soccer MVP, who spent more than half of his MLS career with Kinnear as his assistant or head coach, still hasn't scored this season. He's had fewer opportunities and more defensive responsibility in the midfield, and much of his production last year came as a withdrawn forward.
"We all jumped on Dwayne's back last year and said, 'Look, take us. Take us to the playoffs,'?" Olsen said. "He tried, and he did a pretty unbelievable job at it. ... Dwayne in the midfield is doing a lot for us, and we're going to continue to score goals with him in the midfield so Dwayne doesn't care."
Neither does Cruz, who will face his former team for the first time on Saturday without hard feelings but with plenty of awareness of what makes Houston so tough. Dynamo midfielder Brad Davis, who had four goals and 16 assists last year and finished second to De Rosario in MVP voting, expects to be available after missing the last two games with a calf strain.
"There is such a thing for me as getting too excited about it," Cruz said. "I'm going to enjoy the game and most importantly, enjoy the way that we're playing right now. That's the most important thing. To go against your former team when your team is playing well is something to look forward to."