Obviously D.C. United doesn't know how to play with a lead.
After an even and unattractive first half that had United fortunate to be up a goal thanks to the second of two Andy Gruenebaum mistakes, the team fell apart in the second half and overtime. They could not hold possession. They could not complete any passes. They could not fabricate any opportunities.
They could not keep the Columbus Crew out of their half, and then ultimately they could not keep the Columbus Crew out of their net.
What D.C. United has going for it though are two things. Fans that will be eternally loyal (at least as long as the team remains in or around D.C.). And players who don't quit fighting. Some players fight by working hard from the opening whistle until the final whistle, by playing with an unfaltering aggression, by challenging every pass. And some players fight by sticking out a leg to trip an opponent after falling to the ground.
Before getting into the player ratings, I just thought I'd mention that I want no part of the ref-bashing that's taken place on Twitter tonight and will surely continue through the day tomorrow. Whether or not it was a weak red card is debatable, but Pablo Hernandez had no business giving the referee a reason to card him. There's no excuse at all for sticking out your leg to trip a guy when you're already on the ground. My bigger complaint about the ref was his lack of consistency over the course of the match in calling fouls. In the first half, he was letting a lot go uncalled for both sides. That's fine. In overtime though, Crew players need only to hit the grass and a whistle was blown immediately, allowing them to kill off the game fairly easily. It's not like we had a chance of coming back anyway, but it was incredibly frustrating to watch.
Anyway, on to the ratings, which are really hard to write on a night with such emotional highs and lows.
Since you were all unanimously against me on Sunday night with him, please allow me to share some praise for Santino Quaranta. He was constantly pushing the team forward, and also really impressed me defensively. His side of the field was generally pretty quiet when the Crew was in possession. I wish I could say the same for the other flank.
Bill Hamid played very well in goal, coming out for crosses competently and decisively, and made the one huge save on Eddie Gaven in the 71st minute. Tony Limarzi called it Hamid's biggest save of his career, and I think I'd have to agree. Can't blame him for the penalty kick, and can't blame him for the deflected second goal that he actually had a chance at saving if it had gotten through cleanly.
We've seen him have more brilliant matches before, but Andy Najar was United's best attacker tonight, even after he was obviously winded following his temporary assignment as lone striker. Every chance the team had of equalizing in overtime was created by Najar. I had actually wanted the team to get him more involved earlier in the match. He is our best player in transition, and Allsopp and Quaranta should be looking in his direction every time we have a counter attacking opportunity. Defensively though, Najar could have given McTavish a bit more help.
I'm starting to understand the role of Stephen King a bit more. When United has possession in the middle third of the field, King is always within 20 feet of the ball. If anyone needs a pass, King is there.
Dejan Jakovic was having an excellent match up until his miss in the second overtime. He was often playing a sort of sweeper role, and playing it well. He was constantly cutting out passes, and was about the only defender on the team who would actually look for an open player to pass the ball to after winning possession rather than just booting it up the field.
The fact that Pablo Hernandez struck a perfect penalty shot into the side netting is outweighed in my opinion by his totally unnecessary sending off. To further emphasize my earlier point, he just shouldn't have put the referee in the position where he might give out a red card. Whether the card was 100% deserved is inconsequential. Besides, other than being in the fortunate position to win the penalty kick, and then converting it, Hernandez didn't add all that much to this match. But he did still add more than Danny Allsopp, who was completely ineffective tonight. His failure to get a shot off when Gruenebaum left him with an open net early in the match really hurts.
I wonder if Ben Olsen regrets his decision to bring in Carey Talley and leave Pontius on the bench. Inserting Talley in the overtime period raises another question: Why is he even on the team? Within the first 10 minutes of overtime, Talley was slide tackling Steven Lenhart in the box. Lenhart hadn't done a goddamn thing all night, and I don't think he was about to start at that moment. The run up to that play also had Lenhart beating Marc Burch as he turned into the box. Burch had a decent defensive showing for about 88 minutes, but he was credited with an own goal and let the team down in the end.
Hope for redemption rested in this match, and in the corresponding Open Cup Final if D.C. United managed to win it. With the team falling 2-1, this season can be officially written off as a total and massive failure. It's the latest in a series of failures from a once-mighty organization that has gotten progressively worse every year since 2006. Most businesses with those kinds of results would be bankrupt by now. Or they would at least be in the process of layoffs.
Come to think of it, United might be due for a few more layoffs shortly too.