The Last Word: 3 Things to Remember from D.C. United vs Columbus Crew

MLS ready? Indeed! - Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

D.C. United ventured into the strange and wonderful state of Maryland on Saturday to play in a doubleheader along with the defending World Cup champions. Much was hoped for, but little was actually memorable--except for three items.

Saturday evening's game between D.C. United and the Columbus Crew was a unique setup when it was placed on the schedule a few months ago.  Playing away from RFK in an MLS regular season match, and taking the field in the nightcap of a doubleheader that saw the world champions, Spain, in their final pre-World Cup game, provided all the ingredients for this to be a memorable match.  Unfortunately, this game wasn't one D.C. United fans will long remember, except for three completely unrelated things involving attendance, a rookie player, and a missed penalty kick.

Their Words:

Ryan Bacic:  "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."

Steven Goffvia washingtonpost.com:  "United's home unbeaten streak reached eight, even though it was playing a home game somewhere other than RFK Stadium for the first time since MLS's 1996 launch. United appeared at FedEx Field twice before, friendlies against Chelsea and Real Madrid...About half of the 53,267 spectators left after Spain's 2-0 victory over El Salvador, and with United and the Crew generating few opportunities, the crowd slimmed in the second half to probably 15,000 - closer to D.C.'s RFK average of 12,275."

- Ben Olsenvia dcunited.com:  "The first 25 minutes I thought was really good. I don't think it was the greatest night for us, as a whole, but the first half was pretty good. We did enough to get a couple of really good looks and we probably should have come [into the second half] with a goal or two. [Columbus] brought some juice in the second half and had a real stamp on the game. I think [Luis] Silva started to tire, it was his first game in a while, and you saw that in the second half. I felt Jared [Jeffrey] came in and did a good job, which was nice to see. I felt [Steve] Birnbaum was fantastic and Lewis Neal came in and did a good job too. So overall, I'm not sure who deserves to win that game. [Columbus] had some good looks as well and they grinded out a point so overall we keep moving forward in the points department, which is good."

- Ben Olsen, via dcunited.com: On the missed penalty by Fabian Espindola. "I give the goalkeeper [Steve Clark] credit. A lot of guys go left or right but he stayed right in the middle. It's a little disappointing in the end not to get points out of the PK late like that, but Fabi's been the man for us this year so he certainly can take the next one."

- Columbus Crew coach Greg Berhaltervia dcunited.com:  On impact of the Steve Clark PK Save. "I think it was a fantastic point for the guys. For them to, you know, grind out that result was exceptional. And Steve, what can I say; it took a lot of guts by him. Pat [Onstad] has been working with him and telling him where the shooter goes. He gave him two options. When a goalie stands still it can go bad quickly, but he did it and he had the courage to do it. He came up with a great save."

- Columbus Crew keeper Steve Clarkvia dcunited.com:  On the penalty kick save.  "Yeah, we had pretty good intel from our goalkeeper trainer, Pat. He has done a great job all year, so I felt like I knew he was going to go there. And, I had my que, so I just waited him out. I didn't care if he was going to score; I was going to wait up the middle."

- Columbus Crew defender Eric Gehrigvia dcunited.com:  On Steve Clark's penalty kick save. "You know, obviously I wasn't too happy with the call, but it's okay. Right when he called it, I had a feeling Steve was going to save it. I actually ran up to him and said ‘You're going to save it Steve.' Just shows Steve does his homework. He is a big-time player, he's a gamer. You know, it takes a lot of guts to just stand there on a PK. He believed in himself and he made the save. It's big for us."

- Bobby Boswellvia dcunited.com:  On playing at FedExField.  "It kind of reminded me of a place I used to play. It feels a little more narrow [at FedExField]. It kind of made the game a little different. It took the outside guys out of it, kind of clogged the middle, but it's fun to be a part of these kind of things. It would've been more fun with a win, obviously, but we got a point. It's not the greatest night but we'll take it."

- Steve Birnbaumvia dcunited.com:  On his teammates' support in his first career MLS game.  "We found out I was starting a couple of days ago, so we went over a couple of tactics, especially how Columbus plays and everyone's been great talking me through a bunch of things. Bobby was very nice to me today, just walking me through everything and talking the whole time and I felt comfortable out there, so I'm happy."

- Eddie Johnsonvia dcunited.com:  On leaving the game early.  "If something doesn't feel right out there, A: You don't want to be out there and hurt your team in a meaningful game, in a conference game where we win this game and we can go to the top of the Eastern Conference. B: You just want to be smart. It's a long season. We've got good players that come off the bench and make a difference in the game. I was just stuck in a difficult situation where I was just trying to be smart and do what's best for the team and the outcome."

My Words:

On the positive side for the night, this match goes into the record books as the highest-attended game of the 2014 MLS season to date.  According to official MLS statistics53,267 fans watched D.C. United play Columbus, raising the Black-and-Red's season home average to 16,830 (12th best in the league) from 12,275 (17th best in the league).  Here are the top 10 best-attended matches of 2014 to date (take that, Seattle!):

Date Day of the Week Home Team Road Team Stadium Result Attendance
7-Jun-14 Saturday D.C. United Columbus Crew FedEx Field 0-0 53,267
17-May-14 Saturday Seattle Sounders San Jose Earthquakes CenturyLink Field 1-0 49,746
31-May-14 Saturday Seattle Sounders Real Salt Lake CenturyLink Field 4-0 39,245
8-Mar-14 Saturday Seattle Sounders Sporting Kansas City CenturyLink Field 1-0 39,240
26-Apr-14 Saturday Seattle Sounders Colorado Rapids CenturyLink Field 4-1 38,582
3-May-14 Saturday Seattle Sounders Philadelphia Union CenturyLink Field 2-1 38,516
7-May-14 Wednesday Seattle Sounders FC Dallas CenturyLink Field 2-1 38,489
29-Mar-14 Saturday Seattle Sounders Columbus Crew CenturyLink Field 1-2 38,469
15-Mar-14 Saturday Seattle Sounders Toronto FC CenturyLink Field 1-2 38,441
23-Mar-14 Sunday Montreal Impact Seattle Sounders Olympic Stadium 0-2 27,207

This all sounds great, except anyone who was there, or watched the game on TV, knows the actual headcount of fans who stayed for D.C. United's match wasn't anywhere close to the official count.  D.C. United will continue to reap the statistical rewards for this bit of good scheduling in pairing themselves with Spain in a two-for-one ticket deal at FedEx Field, but we will also track attendance just at RFK stadium to help understand what is really going on at the turnstile for the hometown team.

Another good development from the match against Columbus which fans will likely recall in the years ahead was the rookie debut of MLS SuperDraft #1 overall pick Steve Birnbaum.  In the absence of seeing him play with the senior squad in the first three months of the season, there was discussion that perhaps he wasn't ready for MLS minutes, or that D.C. United should have selected another player in the #1 slot.  Now that we've seen him play, however, it appears he is fully ready to make a quality contribution when called upon this season.  Unfortunately for him, he is behind Bobby Boswell and Jeff Parke on the depth sheet, but the opportunity to learn from, and compete with, these two experienced center backs may just be the best possible developmental situation as we look ahead to the next few years.  Here's to hoping we see him get more first team minutes in the months ahead.

The Last Word:

The final part of Saturday's game fans will remember was Fabian Espindola's missed penalty kick late in stoppage time.  As Ben Olsen says above, it's hard to berate the best player on the team who has carried the offense on his back throughout much of the season, but Espindola should have known better.  Give credit to Conor Doyle for creating the scoring chance, but his work went for naught when Espindola tried to finesse the keeper rather than slamming the shot home.

With penalty kicks being converted in MLS at about an 80% rate, D.C. United should have left FedEx Field with 3 points following Espindola's PK in the final moments of stoppage time.  For this reason, we are going to track the missed PK as another late game event which took points away from D.C. United.  Unfortunately for the team, this adds to the early-season narrative which says this is a team giving up points late in games (defined as 76' or later).  For the year, D.C. United is now down -8 points total due to late game antics (with half of those coming in the last two games against Columbus in the 90' or later).

Date Home Team Visiting Team Goal Scorer Minute Final Result DCU Points Dropped/Gained
8-Mar-14 D.C. United Columbus Crew Federico Higuain (CLB) 90' 0-3 0
29-Mar-14 D.C. United Chicago Fire Quincy Amarikwa (Chi) 82' 2-2 -2
5-Apr-14 D.C. United New England Revolution Chris Rolfe (DCU) 90'+3' 2-0 0
19-Apr-14 Columbus Crew D.C. United Hector Jimenez (CLB) 90' 1-1 -2
3-May-14 Portland Timbers D.C. United Own Goal against POR (Mamadou Danso) 78' 2-3 0
3-May-14 Portland Timbers D.C. United Maximiliano Urruti (POR) 90'+4' 2-3 -1
17-May-14 D.C. United Montreal Impact Eddie Johnson (DCU) 84' 1-1 1
24-May-14 New England Revolution D.C. United Diego Fagundez (NER) 77' 1-2 -2
7-Jun-14 D.C. United Columbus Crew Fabian Espindola (DCU, missed PK) 90'+5' 0-0 -2

Do you agree?  Should the missed PK go on the books alongside the late game goals above?  What will you remember from this match?

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