Tampa Bay Sports Day

Summer heat puts premium on cool headedness

It is officially hot in Washington, DC and it will be until basically Labor Day, which also officially starts the second season for DC United and for most of Major League Soccer.

In an unofficial, unscientific poll, Houston was noted as the hottest city in which to play in MLS. Though done in jest for the most part, the oppressive heat is the single most notable, and difficult, playing condition that sets MLS apart from any other league in the world.

“Depends on the time of the year but Houston is definitely for me the hottest and most humid,” said Josh Wolff with a smile, reminiscing a bit about his days in Kansas City, where he spent most of his 13 seasons in MLS. “There was a day where we used to play those twelve o’clock, two o’clock Telefutura, Galavision games in Houston and Dallas and they were brutal.

“I am going to stick with Texas as being the hottest, absolutely. Kansas City is hot I am not going to disagree, but I am going to stay with Texas.”

Playing in the humidity of Washington in a cumbersome old stadium with no air flow is no picnic either. You could also argue that the heat in most MLS cities is the primary reason most of the European star players who have come over to MLS, many past their prime albeit, have failed. They completely underestimated its effect on the game and more importantly, their bodies, because they have never played in similar conditions for sustained periods of time.

“You can’t run-and-gun so the first goal becomes even more critical because if you are behind and you have to chase in the heat, you are going to get picked apart eventually,” said Wolff.

“Your team may be fit and you may be fast, but it will take it out of you without a doubt; you are playing in 90 degree heat, 90 percent humidity. Guys that have been around this league know it’s a grind in the summer so it’s important to play smart and capitalize on your opportunities and be sound defensively.”

DC United coach Ben Olsen along with trainer Brian Goodstein and strength and condition coach Pete Calabrese have a good pulse on the squad’s fitness levels through requisite heart rate monitoring and a fitness testing. Olsen has shortened training sessions significantly but despite the conditions, the tactics will remain the same.

“I think the guys are fit but summer is tough. I say it all the time-it’s a different season,” said Olsen. “Late in games, it’s tough. You see a lot of late goals in the summer because people get tired and the mind goes and you make mistakes and it costs you.”

There have been an inordinate number of ties in Major League Soccer this season and as we head into these summer months, that is only likely to continue. Of the 162 games already played among the 18 teams, 40% (65 games) have ended in a draw.

FC Dallas however, who led the league with 14 draws a year ago, have merely four this year in their first 18 games, one more than Portland in the same amount of games. Over the course of last season, with two fewer teams, 24% (58) of the 240 total league matches finished in a deadlock.

Chicago has an astounding 12 draws in their first 18 games while both first place teams in each conference, New York and Los Angeles have 10 and 9 respectively.

DC United goes to New York to take on the Red Bulls this Saturday. New York put the only serious thrashing on United at home this season, outclassing them across the field in a 4-0 result in April.

United have already played to seven draws in just 16 games, whereas they played four through all of last season. United have drawn their last two matches, both at home, after taking the lead and then giving up late goals in both.

The late goals have been a major contributor to the number of ties in general but Olsen sees other factors for his team.

“I think it’s more our mentality now in how we play with the lead,” he said. “And I think it’s an epidemic in the league where teams are not confident enough to play the way they play when it’s tied or when they are down with the lead; they sit back and hope to grind out wins.

“Sometimes that can work but over the long haul, if you just play big balls and hope that you get out of there with a win. A lot of times the league is good enough where the offensive team as they push, is good enough they are going to tie it up.”

As the mercury hits triple digits on occasion, finding points for United is going to become more difficult despite having games in hand on every team ahead of them in the Eastern Conference.

“It’s a little bit of a broken record but we gotta keep grinding, the summer months are tough but we obviously have to get more than ties at home,” Wolff said.

“At the end of the year when points are not out there, not available we are going to look back to these and be disappointed and hopefully they don’t cost us the playoffs. It’s time and time again now and it’s real points, valuable points we don’t get to go back after and make up for.”