- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 23, 2011

If you happen to wander into D.C. United’s locker room, deep in the bowels of RFK Stadium, you’ll see a chalkboard featuring the MLS standings.

Heading into this weekend’s slate of games, United are fifth place in the Eastern Conference. They also happen to play three of the four teams ahead of them in their next three games.

United are a young but yearning squad looking to make the playoffs — and, with that, hopefully shatter the glass ceiling of mediocrity that has hemmed in the once-dominant organization in recent seasons.

Since the season still is young enough to make headway in the standings, and their next string of matches is against teams they’ll want to leapfrog sooner or later, there’s a general consensus among United’s players and coaches: lucky them.

“You feel like you’re in control of your own destiny,” assistant coach Chad Ashton said. “It’s a good time to impact where we are, two games at home, one on the road; you have to take advantage of those and maximize points.”

As is the usual standard in sports, more home games than away games tend to be a good thing. But thus far this season, United’s formula for picking up results has been more akin to a road warrior’s. The team has 17 points — eight coming on the road.

“Our approach [at home] has to be the same as it is on the road, and we’re trying to figure out how to do that,” defensive midfielder Clyde Simms said. “We don’t want to be only good on the road or only good at home because, over the course of the season, that won’t do you any good.”

Picking up points in the next few matches, however, will. Up first this weekend is a visit from the Houston Dynamo, who trounced United 4-1 when the teams met at the end of April in the Lone Star State.

United’s players and coaches offered up different views of how much the lopsided loss still stings. Ashton and Simms spoke of avenging losses being an inherent part of the game. On the other hand, goalkeeper Bill Hamid said what’s done is done.

“I’m not really thinking about last game. I’m taking it like it’s another game; I always come with the same mentality,” Hamid said. “It’s definitely not going to be like it was last time.”

After the Dynamo rematch come games against the New York Red Bulls and Philadelphia Union. The Union currently present themselves as natural rivals to United. Not only do they come from a city that, regardless of a sport, makes them an Interstate 95 foe - they’re also a team only in its second MLS season, yet currently places ahead of D.C. in the standings.

“We have three games against teams right above us, we want to rise up the ladder,” Hamid said. “If we get nine points from these, who knows, maybe we’ll be on top of the Eastern Conference. We have faith in ourselves that we can get them.”