This wasn't the way that DC United wanted to start off the most important week of its 2011 season.
With a 3-2 loss on the road to the Philadelphia Union, some defensive issues for United were exposed. The Union were just playing at a higher level - thinking faster, making their shots count.
United was somewhat lucky to keep this one close. Swap goalkeepers and we might have seen a final score of 5-1 instead, as Bill Hamid made several quality saves on the numerous opportunities generated by the Union, and rookie Zac MacMath occassionally looked like he should go back to Maryland.
As it stands though, the Union went a long way towards securing a playoff spot tonight, while United took a step closer to that "outside looking in" territory. This was like a six-point match, and Philadelphia took all of them.
There certainly were bright spots for D.C. - Austin Da Luz and Dwayne De Rosario hooked up for yet another corner kick goal (we get one every week now!), and Andy Najar made an impressive coast-to-coast run to punish Philadelphia for its weak defending with a strong finish.
But United's defending was a major issue tonight. Ethan White and Brandon McDonald combined for a poor effort and plenty of poor decisions in giving up three preventable goals. They've got to do better.
Fortunately, D.C. has a chance to move on quickly from this letdown. No time to dwell on the loss. A matchup against the Columbus Crew looms on Sunday. That's another team ahead of us in the standings, but with less talent than we have. Four points from this week was the goal. Three would probably still get us back into the playoff hunt though.
Five games to go. Let's make the most of them.