As long-eliminated Toronto FC took on still-hopeful Montreal at BMO Field Saturday night, some of the hometown signs made perfectly clear how meaningful the game remained. "If we can't have nice things, then why should they?!" one read. If not for an egregious Dwayne De Rosario first-half miss, D.C. United might well have played the same role on Sunday at RFK. Instead, United's house would prove more than accommodating, with the Black-and-Red opening the playoff door to the Houston Dynamo in a 2-1 defeat on MLS' final day.
"When we match up against these teams that are playing for their playoff lives, the difference between us and them, it's not that far off," head coach Ben Olsen said following the loss, which gave United the record for fewest wins (three) in MLS history. "It's not."
"It's some players - it's some key players," he continued. "It's a little savvy, a little class, in the final third. I have a lot of faith in a majority of these guys." Judging by the turnout, the District didn't agree: Official attendance for the regular-season finale was announced at just 13,731, helping set a record for lowest average attendance in club history.
Even United's own players, in fact, were apparently reluctant to come out on Sunday. Guatemalan forward Carlos Ruiz was "out of town," according to Olsen, who was forced into the unusual move of dressing three goalkeepers. Shortage of depth also forced James Riley into a start at center back, a position that Olsen said he probably hadn't played in a decade.
It would prove costly.
In just the 10th minute of play, Riley was beaten by Houston striker Giles Barnes on a ball over the top, and then he'd compound his positional error by taking Barnes down from behind in the area. Oscar Boniek Garcia converted the ensuing penalty with a coolly placed shot past Bill Hamid and into the bottom right corner to make it 1-0 early.
And though Kyle Porter would equalize with a header past Tally Hall in the 27th, United should have gone one up shortly thereafter. But De Rosario, after being played clear through by loanee Conor Doyle, bungled his chance at an empty net and was ultimately smothered by Eric Brunner. Four minutes later, Houston did what D.C. could not, Barnes heading home a Brad Davis corner to restore the Dynamo's advantage.
With Houston more than content with the scoreline and DCU seemingly apathetic, it would be the last tally of the day at RFK, which was near silent as the final whistle blew. In the process, United set an all-time Major League Soccer record for fewest wins in a season, with three. Last year's squad, which eventually fell to Houston in the Eastern Conference finals, won 17 games.
"It's not up to me [if I'll be back next season]," Olsen said. "I'm preparing, doing everything I can to make sure that we're ready for next year, whether that's the case or not. You guys are starting to talk about it now, but we've been preparing for next year for three months.
"We've known that we were in the position we were-that we weren't going to make the postseason-for a long time."
More from Black And Red United:
- D.C. United vs. Houston Dynamo: Season Finale TV streaming schedule, preview, projected lineup, prediction, and live thread
- D.C. United Scouting Report: Houston Dynamo
- United Abroad: Alumni News & Notes for October 2013
- MLS Final Weekend Schedule, TV/streaming info and open thread
- D.C. United vs. Houston Dynamo Match Center