Well that was - unfortunate? unlucky? deserved? - predictable. For 80 minutes tonight, D.C. United did just enough to keep the curse at bay down in Space City against the Houston Dynamo. They weathered the opening 20-minute salvo and played the Orange even through the middle part of the first half before starting to bend a bit during the last 10 minutes before the half. They withstood a nonsense penalty call by worst MLS referee Baldomero Toledo - the ball and both players were clearly outside of the box - in the 39th minute thanks to a weak attempt by Brad Davis and a strong save by Bill Hamid. United even came a crossbar away from going ahead in the 42nd minute through a Chris Pontius free kick.
D.C. lasted 80 minutes without anybody not named Chris Pontius doing much of anything productive on offense. Pajoy made some good hold-up plays, but found himself stranded far too often. Nick DeLeon - and Pontius, too - found himself in decent positions on multiple occasions, but waited too long to pass or shoot each time, allowing defenders to get back into position and cut off angles or step up to put the men in black offside.
United survived 73 minutes of John Thorrington trying to do too much on the dribble - instead of playing to the stronger, passing side of his game. They survived the Dynamo figuring out that a direct ball over the top to Will Bruin or Giles Barnes (tonight's man of the match, no matter what NBCSN says) will cause Dejan Jakovic and Brandon McDonald to tie themselves in knots. They even survived about 37,000 Brad Davis corner kicks, some of which didn't even involve the ball crossing the endline first.
Ironically, in the seven minutes before the inevitable, when United new man Marcos Sanchez came on to replace Thorrington in the advanced central midfield, the Black-and-Red looked better. They pushed forward more competently and sent in more dangerous crosses and through balls. And then, of course, in the 80th minute, the snake bit, and James Riley, another D.C. United debutant, who had entered for Daniel Woolard at halftime, sent the 37,001st Brad Davis corner kick right into Hamid's net, breaking Own Goal's duck for the season.
After that, everything changed. Houston maintained possession and los Capitalinos chased the game. Kyle Porter came on for Marcelo Saragosa as United shifted to a 4-1-3-2 with Pontius moving from the left to partner Lionard Pajoy up top. But it wasn't enough, and the equalizer never game. With a minute to go in regulation,
Giles Barnes Warren Creavalle danced around a United defender on the endline - really, he capitalized on a lucky bounce, which is what good 1v1 players do - and lay the ball off for Ricardo Clark to finish an early Goal of the Week nominee from a shallow angle into the far side netting, and that was that; 2-0 to the bad guys.
Anyway, here are the highlights:
Thankfully, this completes our slate of games at the hellhole known as BBVALOLWTFOMGBBQ Compass Stadium, as D.C.'s remaining two games against the Dynamo are on East Capitol Street. United comes home next weekend to open up RFK for the 2013 season against Real Salt Lake, a game I'm hearing is pretty likely to sell out (so buy your tickets now if you haven't already).
Thankfully, this game isn't the season. It still wasn't good enough, and the boys in black - every single one of them - will have to improve significantly from here. They will, and we'll look back at tonight as a starting point, not a bellwether. But in the meantime, losing in Houston - again - still stings.