Before getting into the details of tonight's match in any depth, I just want to say thank you to D.C. United. Honestly and sincerely. Thank you for giving us an exciting and entertaining season.
Your fans will be at RFK Stadium three times in the next 10 days. Will you be there too? Your fans will bring it. Will you bring it too? Your fans will be there to say thanks. Thank them in turn with a performance that matches the passion you'll see in the stands. Thank them with a fully focused 90 minutes each night.
Because that isn't what we saw from United tonight in a 2-1 loss to the Vancouver Whitecaps. What we saw was a team that was better than its opponent overall, but could not deliver. D.C. was better everywhere but within the 18-yard box. Better at every time but the first minute of each half.
The Whitecaps scored two very similar goals - each coming from the left wing where Andy Najar and Chris Korb were unable to step up in time to challenge the cross, and each finding either an unmarked (thanks to Marc Burch) or poorly marked (thanks to Daniel Woolard) forward in the box.
Each goal was preventable. They could have been prevented with more focus, obviously. But also with better tactical decisions.
Early in the season, Ben Olsen improved United's defensive capabilities simply by using more defensive-minded players. Perry Kitchen was moved from the middle to the right in place of the more aggressively attacking Korb, and Woolard took Burch's starting job on the left because he's a more competent defender, despite lacking Burch's crossing ability.
Tonight, partially due to scheme and partially due to necessity, Olsen reverted. Korb and Burch were back in the starting lineup. Olsen felt compelled to move Kitchen higher up the field, and to play Woolard centrally while holding back a less than fully fit Ethan White. Those decisions were costly. Utilizing the more attack-oriented Korb and Burch as the wingbacks tonight didn't pay off. Those two are now 1-5-1 when used in tandem, with 15 goals allowed, and a Charlie Davies penalty kick against the Los Angeles Galaxy away from a sixth loss. Should've stuck with what was (kind of) working, Ben.
The defense's lack of focus wasn't entirely responsible for the loss though. We should have scored more than one goal against the Whitecaps. That one goal came off a nicely placed free kick from Santino Quaranta to Brandon McDonald, but it was too little too late. The black-and-red responded to the tally with energy and urgency that wasn't present in the first 60 minutes of the match. Too many missed opportunities. Too many wasted chances. Too many times I've said that.
You know what upsets me though? What really upsets me is this:
That team wouldn't have needed any playoff scenarios. That team would have won the Eastern Conference. That team would have gone to MLS Cup.
This team isn't that team. That team will probably never play a single match together. This team will play only three more.
Full recap here. Player ratings tomorrow.