- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 21, 2012

If the intensity of D.C. United’s push for the playoffs wasn’t evident before their 1-1 draw with the Philadelphia Union on Sunday, it sure is now.

The encounter was overwhelmed in its final minutes by physical play, controversial officiating and on-the-field bickering — including several heated exchanges between United teammates.

“That just can’t happen on camera,” coach Ben Olsen said. “That’s my message. If you want to come in the locker room and throw someone against the wall if they screwed up, that’s part of this. That’s emotional professional sports. But I can’t have it on the field.”

In that game, referee Mark Geiger took United captain Dwayne De Rosario’s go-ahead penalty kick off the board, then went on to eject D.C.’s Branko Boskovic and Emiliano Dudar and Philadelphia’s Sheanon Williams.

Amid the chaos, United defenders Brandon McDonald and Chris Korb barked at each other. When Dudar received his red card for an ill-advised slide tackle, teammate Chris Pontius shared pointed words with the ousted center back.

“I think that’s good,” De Rosario said. “We’re starting to see guys really caring. It shows that passion. Guys are starting to take a lot of onus on themselves and expecting a lot from others.”

It’s easy to see why matters are getting testy. Earlier this summer, United enjoyed sole possession of first place in the Eastern Conference. Now, at 11-8-4, they sit in the conference’s fifth and final playoff spot, one point ahead of the Montreal Impact but with four games in hand.

In their past five matches, United are 1-3-1 with just three goals scored — a lackluster haul for what still is the league’s fourth-best attack.

“We’re in the playoffs for how I look at it,” Olsen said. “These games are all going to have playoff mentalities for both teams. We’re in it. Let’s go. Let’s get out there and get it done.”

Adding to the pressure is Wednesday’s opponent at RFK Stadium, the Chicago Fire (12-7-5). Bolstered by the midseason acquisitions of highly priced attackers Alvaro Fernandez and Sherjill MacDonald and onetime U.S. national team forward Chris Rolfe, the Fire have used a three-game winning streak to surpass United for fourth in the East.

As De Rosario noted, United have a score to settle with Chicago after the Fire essentially extinguished D.C.’s postseason hopes last year, bagging two stoppage-time goals to secure a shock 2-1 result at RFK in October.

“Hopefully this time around, we set the tone, we set the intensity,” De Rosario said. “Chicago is a team that is playing with a lot of confidence right now.”

Added Pontius: “Attackingwise, they’re very good. But on the other side, I think at times, just watching video, they can get a little complacent. And hopefully we can kind of exploit some of those spaces.”

Although returning to the pitch with just two days rest normally is far from ideal, United are eager to put Sunday’s mess behind them, continuing a key stretch of five matches in 13 days.

“I like to think you’ll see the best of us when we’re playing in that kind of environment, when the games are coming fast,” De Rosario said. “It keeps the guys focused. You can’t take your foot off the pedal.”