The Last Word: DCU vs. NYRB. Who Will Step Up for D.C. United?

USA TODAY Sports

Two struggling teams took the field Saturday night at RFK Stadium, and one of them saw their stars play as stars are expected to, and they departed Washington with a win. The other team was D.C. United. Who will step up for them?

On an beautiful evening for soccer in the nation's capital, D.C. United fell to the hated New York Red Bulls 2-0 on Saturday night in front of a crowd of 18,019. While all the conditions were set for D.C. United to finally get their season headed in the right direction against a team they have largely dominated throughout their history, the Red-and-Black once again found it impossible to find the back of the net, making it the fourth goalless performance in their first six games. Making matters even worse, in a game in which the opposing team's star players stepped up and played like stars should, D.C. United's top players did not, leaving fans wondering where improvement will come from next week against the Philadelphia Union in the former fortress known as RFK Stadium.

What They Said:

- Steven Goff: "D.C. United is a bad team right now, and if the course of a troubling season doesn't turn soon, Coach Ben Olsen is prepared to make changes. "We've got to fix something," he said following a 2-0 setback against the New York Red Bulls on Saturday night at RFK Stadium. "I don't know if we have got to look within the league, I don't know if we have to make a trade. We have got to get better. We can't continue down this path."...In his postgame interview session, Olsen expressed confidence in the team's ability to recover but also was critical of another lacking performance. He called the attack "pretty poor" and lamented "lapses of concentration." "We're easy to play against," he added. "We're not dynamic enough. We're pretty predictable in the way we go about things. That's just who we are right now. We have to stay together and dig our way out of it.""

- Thomas Floyd: "In a 2-0 win at rival D.C. United on Saturday, the Red Bulls did it all. Sure, the class opener fromThierry Henry helped, as did defender Jamison Olave's third tally of the season. And United's attack doesn't exactly have a lot of bite right now. But on a day the Red Bulls lost the possession battle, they had hardly any trouble keeping the clean sheet. No mental errors equaled no goals conceded."

- Ben Olsen, via dcunited.com: "I thought Thierry [Henry] and [Tim] Cahill in particular out-classed us, especially in the first half, and we couldn't deal with them. They're very good players. When they come to play, it's a tough match up as well. So, I'm not faulting necessarily some of our guys. New York did a good job tonight."

- Ben Olsen on the team's schedule so far this year, via dcunited.com: "I will say this, and I'm not in the mood for excuses at all. We haven't had the easiest schedule. We've played New York twice, we've played [Sporting] Kansas City, we've played [Real] Salt Lake and Houston. So, we've played some playoff teams. All of these teams that we're playing are playoff-caliber teams, and they have a lot of guys returning. I'm hoping that's a part of this, and as we play some teams that are finding out who they are a little bit and don't have the playoff experience, we'll fare better. But, I'm not sugar coating the group right now, and the staff, and the way our team has been playing up to this point."

- Dwayne De Rosario, via dcunited.com: "Obviously, we've had a few games like this with no goals. It questions your confidence, but we have to continue, keep our heads up and play with confidence. It's my job as a captain, as a leader, to continue to instill that in these guys and continue to say, ‘Listen, we have goalscorers. We just have to keep believing in ourselves and believing in what we're doing and stay together because like I said, it's still a long season.' Sooner or later, [we'll] probably get sick of saying that, so we have to start getting those results, especially at home."

- Chris Pontius, via washingtonpost.com: "Somehow, we have got to figure something out...We have got to be able to put up some goals. We can't keep having to put up shutouts all the time. We are going to give up goals, and we have to put some away to take some pressure off the defense."

- Dejan Jakovic, via dcunited.com: "To be honest with you, I feel like we played a great game. We went down 2-0 and it's definitely not what the game really showed. I felt like we did really well with possession, moving it side to side, serving some good balls in, but went down 2-0 - pretty soft goals, obviously. One popped up on Bill [Hamid], the second one just happened to be in the right place. In the second half, I felt like we had at least 75% of the possession. We had the ball, moving [it from] side to side and serving balls in. I mean, the ball just won't go in the goal for us. Obviously, we struggled with that and we gotta keep our heads up and stay together as a team and things will get better."

- Mike Petke on Thierry Henry, via dcunited.com: "But, listen; Thierry's the best player in the League whenever he wants to be. Tonight, he showed how valuable he is. So, it's great to have him."

- Dax McCarty, via soccerbyives.net: "From my standpoint, I never felt like they were a threat to score on us tonight...D.C. has been very dangerous in the past, but for whatever reason I think they're obviously going through a little bit of an offensive identity problem themselves. So for us, we wanted to feed off that."

What the Black and Red United Staff Said:

- Kevin: "A bad game away to Sporting Kansas City is understandable, and was nothing to fret about. This performance at home, against the New York Red Bulls, however? Well, this is a bit more worrying, and looking like part of a pattern...That was gross, and I'm sure we'll dedicate plenty of time this week to talking about how gross it was."

- Jason:

- Martin: "I just can't comprehend how this team is so freakin slow offensively. The word "predictable" has been used before and it's definitely appropriate. Just a total lack of danger. We seem to pull back every possible counterattack possibility, resorting to slow the play down and wait for the rest of the team to get forward so we can lob the ball in straight to Olave's head. 0.33 goals per game is just terrible."

- Rick:

What I Say:

This was a game in which New York's two best players, Thierry Henry and Tim Cahill, played exactly how fans would expect millionaire designated players with European pedigrees and world-class skills to play in a match in which referee Jair Marrufo let the two teams go at it. Henry was consistently dangerous all night, taking on (and routinely beating) D.C. United defenders 1v1, finding open space, using his absurdly good first touch to create opportunities for himself and his teammates, applauding and encouraging his teammates even when their passes were errant, providing goal-scoring opportunities for his team, and then burying his chance when he had it. While Chris Korb did not close down the space on Henry's goal fast enough, there's a good chance Henry would have beaten him 1v1 had he done so and still gotten off a great shot. Henry was simply superb on the night. Cahill as well was threatening throughout the match, using his ridiculous leaping ability and hangtime to win headers against much taller opponents. Although, keeping with his MLS history, he missed a point blank shot just before the Red Bulls' second goal.

D.C. United, on the other hand, again did not have anyone on the offensive side of the field step up and produce for the team. Designated players and/or stars such as Dwayne De Rosario, Chris Pontius, Carlos Ruiz, and Rafael (yes, he's a young DP, but a DP nonetheless) haven't been given, nor created, many opportunities, but when they have had chances, there have been heavy first touches, failed 1v1 attempts, passes to the open man that were not made, shots over or wide of the goal, or missed sitters resulting in no offensive production. This complaint is about production, not effort or attitude which I can only speculate about, and no one on offense is producing the way stars and designated players should right now.

Perhaps the needed production will come from an unlikely place when it comes. Down on the farm in Richmond, Casey Townsend had a good showing for the Richmond Kickers against the defending USL Pro champions. And for D.C. United, Daniel Woolard played his best game of the season, and was D.C. United's most potent offensive weapon in the first half, putting several dangerous crosses into the box. In the second half, Brandon McDonald created quality chances while Chris Korb continued to pepper the box with crosses. In the end, it was all to no avail, as no one on the receiving end was able to produce a goal.

The Last Word:

D.C. United is now officially the most desperate team in the Eastern Conference. Normally, I would be tempted to find all the reasons that wasn't the case, and to take a longer view of the season that still has 80% of the games remaining. But I can't do that this week as D.C. United sits second from the bottom in the overall league table. Because, if last season is a guide, D.C. United has now dug itself into a hole that no team got out of at this point in the season in 2012. Only three teams not in the Top 10 after six weeks in 2012 went on to make the playoffs (D.C. United, Chicago Fire, and the eventual champions, LA Galaxy), and the lowest seeded of those was the Galaxy at #13. Perhaps 2012 was a random aberration with no bearing on 2013, but perhaps 2012 revealed that teams show who they are in the first six games of the season and it is very difficult to significantly improve when you are at or near the bottom of the league table at this point in the season.

There's no more time for talk about the season being early, or the team needing more time to gel. The team must focus on the here and now, and it must produce results immediately. Whoever on this team can step up and produce on the offensive side of the ball, be they a designated player, a star, a minimum salary player, or even a player currently assigned to Richmond, must be given that chance and then must seize the opportunity to get results.

Next week's game at RFK against the Philadelphia Union should be a war. A desperate United team against a physical, chippy Union team in a rivalry that has come into its own. This will be the first game between the two teams since the no-video-preseason-game at Walt Disney World that resulted in Dwayne De Rosario's two-match suspension for headbutting to open the season. And, in the midst of such a hard fought, physical battle, the question remains for D.C. United: who will step up and produce against Philadelphia the way New York's stars did on Saturday night?

Who will step up for D.C. United on Sunday against Philadelphia? What does the team need to do to produce a win?

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