When D.C. United fell to the Houston Dynamo last week, we wrote it off as simply being victims of an unfortunate circumstance that we had created ourselves. There were signs in the first few minutes of action that United would come out as the better team, so we still had reason to justify our continued confidence. But a more objective look at that 4-0 result reveals that the game was never close, regardless of Bill Hamid's mistake.
Well United has now dropped two games in a row, losing tonight to the Columbus Crew by a score of 1-0. And this time we have no individual players or singular moments to blame. The entire team failed to play well enough to win. The final score of 1-0 was a fair result.
D.C. and Columbus looked to be fairly evenly matched sides. We may have had more possession, but the number of good scoring chances created was roughly equivalent. An evenly played match against Columbus would have been fine in previous seasons, when we were one of the mediocre many in the Eastern Conference. In those years, we were always going to be fighting for the final playoff spot at the end of the season. This year, the expectations are much higher. We don't want the last playoff spot. We want one of the top three. We want the conference crown.
We're now farther away from getting it.
The experimental midfield consisting of Lewis Neal in the central attacking role proved to be a disappointment. Neal made some very nice, very accurate passes, but disappeared when we entered the final third. Dwayne De Rosario didn't look like his usual self. The back line did well to cycle possession and keep the ball away from the Crew, but that possession is meaningless when you do nothing with it. Hamdi Salihi wasn't receiving any service, and we didn't find our top scorer and generally most dangerous attacker nearly often enough. Chris Pontius would have scored a goal with more chances. He didn't get them.
Where the back line failed though was early in the second half. By playing a high line, they gave Chris Birchall the chance to make a run. He made it, and he scored.
United tried to fight its way back in, but its hard to take a lead away from a team like Columbus. Their defense is big and stout. They have no problem putting 11 players behind the ball. In fact, they love it. Its what they live for. They came into the game wanting to play ugly, and we handed them the opportunity to do it.
Ben Olsen and his team get some time now to think about the past two weeks. And then they return to the comfortable combines of RFK Stadium for four home matches in the month of August. After a brief diversion next Saturday against Paris Saint-Germain, United will face the Crew once again. This team, let's play our game, instead of theirs.