The Last Word: D.C. United's Road to Nowhere Ends at Sporting Park

The road hasn't been kind to D.C. United this season. - Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

While 2013 will go down as D.C. United's worst MLS season in history, their road performance this year has been even worse. And, that road campaign ended at a place and to a team that has many qualities we need to emulate.

It wasn't an Eastern Conference championship-deciding match like NBCSN surely envisioned before the season began, but D.C. United's 1-0 loss at Sporting Kansas City on Friday night reminded D.C. United fans what our franchise is striving for that Sporting already has: consistent excellence, a strong playing style, and a gleaming, state-of-the-art stadium.

Their words:

- Steven Goff, via Washington Post: "D.C. United will make MLS history this season - and not the kind the club foresaw when a hopeful campaign began. With a 1-0 defeat at Sporting Kansas City on Friday night, United is ensured of at least a share of the record for fewest victories since the league launched in 1996. D.C. also became the fifth club in league annals to go winless on the road."

- Adam Taylor: "Five shots on goal in the entire game. From both teams, combined. And it wasn't because of outstanding defense - it was just a generally badly played game between Sporting Kansas City and D.C. United on Friday night. The Sporks turned in a marginally less incompetent performance, Dom Dwyer capitalizing on a hospital ball from Jared Jeffrey that Perry Kitchen only made worse to put an early goal past Bill Hamid. If you had turned the game off then, you would have missed some yellow cards and a blown 1v1 but that's about it."

- Alan Hainkel, via Soccer By Ives: "Dwyer's goal came as a result of a sloppy back pass from D.C. midfielder Jared Jeffrey to defender Perry Kitchen. Kitchen continued to backpedal as Sporting midfielder Peterson Joseph closed in on him. Joseph poked the ball away from Kitchen and into the path of Dwyer. Dwyer then rounded goalkeeper Bill Hamid and slotted it home. Asked whether the play was a good defensive play or a mistake by his opponent, Dwyer said it was a nice defensive play. "We work on high pressing, and (Peterson) Joseph did a great job pressuring the center back," Dwyer said. "I knew that my job was to close the keeper, so I took a chance. He played it back, and I think the defender saw me coming halfway through his pass. I just took it around (the keeper) and finished it off.""

- Ben Olsen, via dcunited.com: "For about 15 minutes, we were bullied. We warned the guys that it would be a fast paced, physical opening to the game. I didn't think we had the right bite to us. When we go down a goal, about twenty minutes in, we start getting it. We start understanding this is a man's game. I thought for the rest of the game that we were the better team, but it doesn't matter, it does not matter. When you don't play the full game, a good team like Kansas City, they'll bite you and they'll bite you early...It happens. We've put a lot of stress on our goalkeepers and backs because we're not scoring enough goals. Everyone will talk about Perry's mishap, but over the last couple weeks, we're just not finishing. We're not dangerous enough with the final ball and with the final finish. So we've got to take a little pressure off our defense and our goalkeeper."

- Luis Silva, via dcunited.com: "We are just trying to get three points and play for ourselves. We know we're a good team. Things haven't been going our way this season, but we know we are capable of beating teams like this. Today we made a mistake in the back that cost us, but I think throughout the game we showed good energy and good chances to score."

My Words:

If there is one aspect of Sporting's style that defines them, it's high pressure (just read the first two sentences of Jason's excellent scouting report for this match). It had to be at the top of D.C. United's concerns heading into Sporting Park on Friday night. Early in the game it was evident, and early in the game it produced a goal.

Interestingly, from a D.C. United perspective, the only goal of the match was due to to a major defensive gaffe. From a Sporting perspective, however, it was a manufactured goal. Yes, D.C. United gave the home team an opportunity with a soft pass that wasn't immediately cleared, but Sporting's preparedness for that moment and their execution when it occurred resulted in the winning goal. If Kansas City goes on to win their third straight regular season Eastern Conference title and the 2013 Supporters' Shield, their readiness for this situation will have paid huge dividends.

With D.C. United losing again, it seems a bit optimistic to mention positives, but I'll take a stab. The bright spot for me in this game were the three superb passes that unlocked the Sporting defense in the first half. The first was in the 11th minute from Luis Silva which released Chris Korb into open space deep on the right side of the box. Korb's cross made its way to Chris Pontius who then skied his shot far over the bar. Four minutes later, Pontius played a first-rate ball that put Jared Jeffrey 1v1 versus Jimmy Nielsen for United's best chance of the night. And finally, in the 26th minute, Lewis Neal sent a long pass into the box that found Pontius a few steps ahead of his man with a chance to get a shot off, but the ball ran out of bounds (and, what appeared to be a spurious offside, was called as well). It's heartening to see CP13 involved in all three plays, but it's disappointing (and par for the course this year) for D.C. United to not finish any of the three excellent chances that were created in the first third of the match.

The Last Word:

For D.C. United, this game capped a historically dreadful 2013 road campaign. While last season's Eastern Conference finalists were adequate on the road (5-9-3, 18 points, 1.06 pts/game), this season has seen the Black-and-Red plumb the depths of futility (0-14-3, 3 points, 0.18 pts/game). Here are D.C. United's road results this season:

Date Home or Away Opponent Score
2-Mar Away Houston Dynamo 0-2 loss
16-Mar Away New York Red Bulls 0-0 draw
5-Apr Away Sporting Kansas City 0-1 loss
27-Apr Away Columbus Crew 0-3 loss
11-May Away FC Dallas 1-2 loss
2-Jun Away Chicago Fire 0-2 loss
8-Jun Away New England Revolution 0-0 draw
3-Jul Away Seattle Sounders 0-2 loss
7-Jul Away Colorado Rapids 0-0 draw
20-Jul Away Chicago Fire 1-4 loss
10-Aug Away Philadelphia Union 0-2 loss
17-Aug Away Montreal Impact 1-2 loss
31-Aug Away New York Red Bulls 1-2 loss
8-Sep Away Chivas USA 0-1 loss
21-Sep Away New England Revolution 1-2 loss
28-Sep Away Toronto FC 1-4 loss
18-Oct Away Sporting Kansas City 0-1 loss

In 17 league road games this season, D.C. United only scored 6 goals, was shutout 11 times, and gave up 30 goals (for a -24 goal differential). There's really not any additional commentary that can expand on, or mitigate, the impact of these numbers.

Fortunately, in US Open Cup play, D.C. United won all three of their road games in route to the 100th US Open Cup title (I know, I know, technically the game at Richmond was a tie, but D.C. United stayed in the tournament while the Kickers stayed at home in the next round, so I count United's penalty kick victory as a win).

So, what's the key for D.C. United regaining "adequate" status on the road next year (or perhaps even "decent" status)?

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