Espindola Panenka Fails, DCU Settles for Solitary Point at FedEx Field

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Right at the end, United looked like it suddenly might be headed for its seventh win of the season—until the squad's star striker blew a stoppage-time PK.

Well, folks, that wasn't exactly Spain.

After the defending European and World Cup champs finished their send-off game against El Salvador, the fans—and apparently the scoring—filed out, as Fabian Espindola blew a 94th-minute penalty and DC United played the Columbus Crew to a scoreless draw Saturday at FedEx Field.

Espindola, tied for fifth in MLS in goals (7) and third in assists (5), attempted an audacious Panenka after Conor Doyle drew a stoppage-time penalty that looked like it might send DCU to a late win. Steve Clark, though, stood perfectly still. And the catch was an easy one.

"I'd rather not start at the end," head coach Ben Olsen deadpanned to start his postgame press conference.

Okay, Coach, so here's a beginning: Steve Birnbaum, the No. 2 pick in the 2014 MLS SuperDraft, made his first appearance and first start for DC United in the draw, starting in the place of an injured Jeff Parke. Olsen said afterward that he thought Birnbaum was "fantastic" in his debut.

Outside of that, though, there were few bright spots for either side.

The two teams—which met in their respective season-openers March 8, a 3-0 Columbus win at RFK—combined for just five shots on goal on the night out of 24 total shots. They also combined for 35 fouls.

Olsen chalked up Saturday's bumbling performance at least partially to the field conditions, which Spain manager Vicente del Bosque said he was similarly concerned about heading into Saturday's early game.

"Slow, thick," Olsen said of the FedEx Field grass. "It's not built for soccer. It's built for big boys who run around and tackle each other. The ball rolled a little funky, and both teams had to deal with it."

Absences and heat, Olsen added, were other factors—and not just for DC and Columbus.

"I think if you watch the league right now, you get a sense that it's just not the greatest stuff all around," he said. "Guys are missing for the World Cup, and I think this first week or two of heat hits everybody and slows the game down."

But Chris Rolfe, playing wide in the midfield against the Crew, still nearly opened the scoring in the 44th minute with DCU's best chance of the half, but his strike from outside the box missed just wide right past a diving Steve Clark.

The second half, perhaps due to that oppressive heat, only slowed things down further: All of the Black and Red's (very few) shots on target came in the opening frame.

Surely not helping the United offense was the fact that Eddie Johnson was subbed off in the 57th minute, with what Olsen said afterward was a rolled ankle. Nonetheless, DCU was handed a shot to steal the game in stoppage time, when Doyle went down and Espindola stepped to the spot.

Those who stuck around after SpainE-El Salvador finally rose to their feet after 90+ minutes of sedentary viewing. And Espindola, perhaps feeling the moment, evidently decided to add a little flair.

Clark didn't budge.

"I give the goalkeeper credit," Olsen said. "A lot of guys go left or right, and he stood right in the middle."

But would Olsen have backed that decision? "If it goes, I'll back it," he  joked. "If he chips it and the goalkeeper goes flying all the way?

"But yeah, it's a little disappointing not to have the PK and plays like that. But Fabi's been the man for us this year, so he certainly could take the next one."

That next one could potentially come as soon as Wednesday, when United heads to Montreal to take on the Impact before a weeklong break.

If not a PK, though, then hopefully a bit of excitement. We'll take either.

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