In front of an expectedly low Sunday evening crowd of 12,349, D.C. United dropped their fourth straight game (and fifth overall, all within the first seven games of the 2013 season) to the Philadelphia Union 3-2. It was a game that felt desperate even before the opening kick, but D.C. United made it even more desperate only 11 minutes into the match when they found themselves down by two goals. D.C. United looked capable of getting fully back into the match when they halved the lead only six minutes later, just to see Jack McInerney get his second of the game to put the Union ahead 3-1 by the half. That lead was good enough to stand up for the Union despite a Lionard Pajoy goal only two minutes into the second half and a frantic end-of-game formation that saw Brandon McDonald pushing forward (with good effect) through the center midfield and Dwayne De Rosario dropping back behind United's defenders to try to bring the ball forward.
What They Said:
- Steven Goff: "D.C. United began the day in a troublesome spot, stuck at the bottom of MLS's Eastern Conference standings and showing scant signs of being able to resuscitate a disconcerting season. So how did United respond Sunday? By conceding two goals in the first 11 minutes, the gateway to a 3-2 defeat to the Philadelphia Union in front of 12,349 at RFK Stadium. "The way we started the game is just unacceptable," said Coach Ben Olsen, whose squad lost its third straight at home and fourth in a row overall to fall to 1-5-1. "It's very alarming the way we started in the situation we are in.""
- Ives Galarcep: "D.C. United went into Sunday's showdown vs. the Philadelphia Union in desperate need of some contributions from an attack that had been anemic all season. The team had been lacking chances, and failing to produce goals, which was continuing to put the D.C. defense in tough spots on their way to a poor start to the season. Well, the chances did come on Sunday, as did some goals, but this time around it was the D.C. United defense and not the offense that had Ben Olsen scratching his head. Three Union goals in the first 26 minutes, led by a pair of Jack McInerney strikes, helped the Union post a 3-2 victory over D.C. United at RFK Stadium."
- Steve Davis: "D.C. United just lost its third consecutive home match. Sunday's 3-2 defeat at RFK Stadium to Philadelphia, when stacked on earlier home losses to Columbus and New York, will do absolutely nothing to lighten the hastily mounting pressure on United manager Ben Olsen. It doesn't help Olsen one little bit that Sunday's clunker was on national TV, the ESPN2 match of the weekend. Nor does it help when sharp ESPN analyst Taylor Twellman pointed out early in Sunday's match that United seemed uninspired and, perhaps, something too close to casual. Clubs that have lost two in a row at home can be a lot of things, but "casual" is not one of them. That's 100 percent unacceptable. Olsen may have a smidge of wiggle room thanks to last year's progress, going from 9-13-12 in his first full season as head coach to a very respectable 17-10-7 mark in 2012. His men finished just short of a trip to MLS Cup, and that counts for something, too. But ... losing at home. That smarts. And that will erode any wiggle room factor, fast."
- Ben Olsen, via dcunited.com: "We're having trouble putting together full games, where the offense is doing their part and the defense is doing what they do, and that's kind of been the theme. Today offensively, I thought we created a lot of chances and we were dynamic at times and that's a positive...I guess I can sit here and take blame, sure. I don't know, but we'll get back to work and we'll search for a complete game. We'll go back to the film, continue to hammer home some of the simple, basic things we're not doing right now. We knew what that team's about. They have a long throw-in, which is probably their best attack and they do a great job on the counterattack, but we gave them the first goal. The second one they got just on a counter - they did pretty well with it. The third one was a long throw-in, which is one of their best weapons."
- Dwayne De Rosario, via dcunited.com: "I don't even know what to say right now. I truly am just very frustrated right now. It's tough, but I don't know what else to say. Like I said, it's very disappointing. We start lumping the ball, and there is no need for that. We're playing in to our weaknesses instead of into our strengths."
- Bill Hamid, via dcunited.com: "We need to keep our heads up. We need to keep being a team. If we continue to support each other, we're going to be fine. We all know that. Like I said, we're close. We have been putting together stretches of games where we look great. We have come here with the right mentality, we play with heart, its just unfortunate that we haven't gotten the results."
- Carlos Ruiz, via washingtonpost.com: "Everybody is worried about what is going on right now...This is one of those moments in soccer where you cannot find the way to win. But it's going to come. It has to come, sooner or later."
- John Hackworth, via dcunited.com: "The execution was fantastic. And I think from Jack [McInerney], him finishing two - I believe both of them were left footed goals - and Conor [Casey] getting one. It was just a day that we took care of business in front of goal and it was really great to see. It set us up for the result."
What the Black and Red United Staff Said:
- Adam: "And so we see a 1-5-1 record and four points through seven games, good for the bottom of the table. On the bright side, we saw this team score a couple goals. Which was enough to double the team's tally for the season. But it still wasn't enough, even against a Union side that hasn't looked wholly convincing at any point this year. A defense that allowed two goals in the first three matches of the year let three in tonight, making it five goals allowed in the two most recent games, both of them against putative rivals and both of them at RFK Stadium."
New problem: #DCU giving away easy, avoidable goals. Shame, because the offense actually looks better this week— Jason (@chestrockwell14) April 21, 2013
Beginning a season like this after inexplicably making the playoffs with a bad team is what smart numbery people call regression to the mean— Kevin McCauley (@kevinmccauley) April 21, 2013
What I Say:
Proving (again) that winning the possession battle does not necessarily correlate to winning, D.C. United controlled 66% of the possession to the Union's 34%--likely to be among the biggest possession advantages United will enjoy all season. The Philadelphia Union are not a good team, but on this night they clinically finished on their first three shots of the game. Jack McInerney is leading MLS in scoring right now, and he (and Conor Casey) made D.C. United pay for their critical mistakes on each of those three goals. Unlike previous games this year in which Bill Hamid bailed out the defense by standing on his head (though he did rescue them late in this game to prevent a fourth Union goal), McInerney and Conor Casey ensured the Union took advantage of their few chances.
D.C. United's forwards, on the other hand, weren't able to make Philadelphia pay until after three United defensive-minded players, Dejan Jakovic, Brandon McDonald, and Perry Kitchen combined (along with DeRo) for United's first goal. Their second goal was also created by a defender when Daniel Woolard played a dangerous cross into the box that Lionard Pajoy headed home. At that point in the game, with 43 minutes left to play, D.C. United seemed likely to equalize, but they reverted to playing long balls from out of the back to a flat line of four attackers and became less and less dangerous as the game winded down. In fact, there seemed to be lack of effort to build the attack through the midfield in the last 10-15 minutes of the game.
The Last Word:
As D.C. United's season-of-discontent continues to intensify following Sunday's loss to Philadelphia, the closing lines of Ernest Thayer's classic baseball poem, "Casey at the Bat", come to mind:
Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright;
The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light,
And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout;
But there is no joy in Mudville - mighty Casey has struck out.
The 2013 season has become Mudville for D.C. United fans. While fans of FC Dallas, the Houston Dynamo, and the Montreal Impact enjoy the bright sun and light hearts that winning brings to a fanbase, all signs of optimism and enjoyment have vanished for D.C. United fans only seven games into the season. Yes, we're still fans and we'll still root for the Black-and-Red, because they are our team after all. We'll stand, sing, and jump with our fellow supporters on one side of the stadium, or we'll cheer with our families and collectively continue to pull for this team from the other side. We still want each and every player and coach on this team to develop into their absolute best. We fans even want to grow our numbers, but we need signs of hope, and results, to help spread the word. Preferably hope and results on the field, but we'd take a stadium announcement or perhaps even a significant front office move in the near term.
Where does D.C. United go from here? The obvious response is D.C. United can only get better going forward. This team will finish the season with more than 19 points, the current pace they are on, but when will they move off that pace, and how far off it will they move? What changes will have to be made? When will the star players on offense start scoring? When will both the offense and the defense play well at the same time?
So many questions, and so little joy while awaiting the answers.
Where do you see signs of optimism?