The build-up to today's D.C. United game worked on the assumption that United would play reserves with one eye on Tuesday's US Open Cup final. It turns out that maybe both eyes were looking towards that game, because the Black-and-Red were run ragged by MLS's 18th best team Toronto FC today in Canada. The 4-1 scoreline was a fair reflection of a game in which United was simply awful for the entire second half. Darel Russell, Bright Dike, a Conor Shanosky own goal, and Alvaro Rey notched the goals for the Reds, all of which came after Jared Jeffrey scored a golazo to put United ahead early.
Starting a mix of potential stars of the future (Michael Seaton and Collin Martin, for example) and rather less well-liked veterans (Lionard Pajoy and Sainey Nyassi), United started slowly and struggled with turnovers. Thankfully, TFC was no better, allowing the Black-and-Red to grow out of a fitful beginning. After Sainey Nyassi fired a warning shot a couple minutes earlier, Jared Jeffrey put United in front in the 15th minute with one of the best goals this team has produced in 2013. Doneil Henry's headed clearance fell to Jeffrey in space, and the Texan had enough time to tee up a beautiful left-footed curler from over 25 yards that left keeper Joe Bendik with no chance.
One hallmark of struggling teams is that they don't take care of a lead, and so it was just eleven minutes later for DC. Nyassi committed a completely unnecessary foul in the corner, giving TFC a free kick. Alvaro Rey's cross managed to bounce through everyone in the box, and Bobby Convey ended up collecting the ball on the far side of the box. Lionard Pajoy tried to block Convey's cross back in, but the ball spun off his toe and towards Darel Russell, who conjured up an acrobatic volley back across goal to equalize. While the finish was excellent, it was typical of United to fail to deal with a set piece (in this case, one that wasn't above hip height when it began bouncing through the masses in the box).
Ben Olsen changed to a diamond midfield in the second half, mostly due to a reshuffle designed to prevent pushing Daniel Woolard too hard after his return from a hamstring strain. Given the fact that United was already fielding a young, patchwork side, it was not a major surprise to see the game swing firmly in TFC's favor after the break.
After a long spell of pressure in which Toronto was dominant but couldn't get a good look, the wheels eventually fell off. First, Bright Dike had a simple volley from point-blank range after Alvaro Rey had time and space to cross from the right in the 67th minute. The play resulted from a total lack of organization from United: Marcelo Saragosa, stepping back as a center back in the aforementioned reshuffle, was dragged out of position by Andrew Wiedeman and committed a foul. Referee Ted Unkel correctly gave the advantage as
Rey Mark Bloom charged onto the loose ball, and the Spaniard former Atlanta Silverback picked out Dike running into the space vacated by Saragosa. While Saragosa bears the brunt of the blame on this one, no one from United covered for him in central defense, and several players froze up while awaiting a whistle that never came.
The Reds poured forward after getting the lead, and needed just four minutes to make it 3-1. A bad pass from Collin Martin stranded Dennis Iapichino (playing an unfamiliar defensive midfield role), springing Dike. The big man immediately pushed the ball forward for Wiedeman, who in turn side-footed a pass in behind for Rey, who was taking advantage of the fact that he had sprinted well ahead of Taylor Kemp earlier in the move. Conor Shanosky tried to dive in to block Rey's low cross, but was unlucky to see it spin off his foot, over Joe Willis and just over the goal line. Even if the ball hadn't gone over the line from the deflection, Dike was all alone to bash the ball in anyway.
In the last ten minutes, United looked like a beaten team that wanted to go home, while TFC was relishing the chance to pummel someone helpless for once. A fourth goal started to look inevitable, and it was eventually delivered by Rey, who probably deserved a goal to cap off a clear Man Of The Match performance. Since it's taking MLSsoccer a while to post the highlight video - thus preventing a specific list of who got beaten by Rey and how - I'll just say that Rey dribbled past just about every United player, all inside the 18, and then rolled a shot to the far post past a screened and helpless Joe Willis. I'm pretty sure Rey faked me out in the process. You, United fan reading this, were faked out. Rey toyed with United all day long, and on both flanks, and this goal just summed up the whole match.
In the end, the only positives for United were that no one we might call on for the Open Cup final got hurt - Woolard took a knock late in the first half, but appeared OK after a minute - and the stadium deal didn't fall through during what was otherwise a sad showing. Jeffrey's first half performance was a reminder of what he could do surrounded by our other, better players, while Michael Seaton had some nice touches in holding the ball up (most of which were squandered when someone else got the ball, but that's not Seaton's fault). Willis made a couple of good saves, but ended up giving up four goals because TFC was getting great chances rather than half-chances. You give up six or seven of those in a game, and you come away glad to only concede four times.
It was just that kind of day for United, where we were bad, unlucky, and facing a team that really seemed up for the occasion. TFC is still pretty bad, but in MLS every team can be at least decent every now and again. All it took was TFC's version of decent to dismantle a United side that saw no reserves really push for more minutes in the post-USOC future outside of Jeffrey.
More from Black And Red United:
- Three D.C. Councilmembers express skepticism on D.C. United stadium framework
- United Abroad: Alumni News & Notes for September 2013
- D.C. United's new stadium inches closer to existence as the city and Akridge agree on land swap ground rules
- D.C. United's SuperMagic Numbers Keep Changing--for Better or Worse?