The Last Word on D.C. United at Portland Timbers: Three Times is a Trend

Steve Dykes-USA TODAY Sports

It was late, it was on the other side of the continent, it was raining, D.C. United went down early, then tied the game, went down again, tied it again, then they entered the last minute and lost focus. And now it's a trend.

Losing to the Portland Timbers 3-2 on Saturday night ended D.C. United's excellent run of results over the last month.  While dropping the game to Portland in this spot isn't terrifically surprising, the mental lapses leading to the loss are a cause for concern.  The 2014 edition of D.C. United is certainly a competitive team, but these lapses have become repetitive and they are starting to become a problem in the points column.

Their Words:

- Steven Goff, via washingtonpost.com:  "D.C. United conceded a goal in the dying moments Saturday night and dropped a 3-2 decision to the Portland Timbers at sold-out Providence Park, ending its unbeaten run at five and extending its winless streak in MLS regular season away matches to 21.  United (3-3-2) had come back from a pair of deficits and was seconds from securing a point on the road when reserve Maximiliano Urruti scored from close range."

Ryan Keefer:  "The goals at the beginning and end of the match made the Timbers the first team in MLS history to score a goal in the first minute and get a stoppage time game winning marker in the same match. On the latter, Urruti's goal is the 4th D.C. has given up in the last 15 minutes this season, costing the team five standings points to date."

- Pablo Maurer, via mlssoccer.com:  "Though United twice came back from a goal down--using goals from midfielder Davy Arnaud and left back Cristian Fernandez to level the match in the first and second halves, a late dagger from Maximiliano Urruti would send D.C. home without points, a tough pill to swallow."

- Mike Donovan, via soccerbyives.net:  "[Portland Timbers coach Caleb] Porter admitted that the late tying goal felt like "deja vu" for a club that has let in a league-high six goals after the 75-minute mark this season. But Portland finished the game with a flurry, firing six shots at goal in the final five minutes of the match. "This team still believes. We're still a very mentally tough team," Porter said. "It's the type of result that really catapults a team in the season. It's a season-changing result.""

- Ben Olsen, via dcunited.com:   "We pissed that game away. There was a lot of good in regards to this group. A lot of good. Today, starting the game wasn't good enough, set-pieces weren't good enough for us, and the way we managed the game, once again, in the end was amateur. We take a game where we definitely should get a point, if not three, and turn it into a loss. Again, there's a lot of character and a lot of positives with our group, but we cannot go on the road and have these cardinal sins."

- Davy Arnaud, via dcunited.com:  "Disappointed right now because I think we were worth at least a point tonight. To give up a goal that late after you've battled back twice, in a tough place to play, against a good team, is not easy to swallow."

Bobby Boswell, via dcunited.com:  "We're a bit disappointed. We're unhappy with the way we started and to go down a goal and then to come back and then two goals and then come back. We thought we played well enough to earn a point. We're not able to see the game out. Credit to them for continuing to push. We have to learn from what we did tonight and make sure it doesn't happen again. That's what good teams do. They learn from their mistakes."

My Words:

Although D.C. United suffered a jarring loss on Saturday night, the team showed once again it has the physical tools to put itself in a position to earn a result despite playing in a difficult situation.  And the game in Portland was a tough situation against the most desperate team in the league, in the Cascadia rain, with starters out with injuries, and on an unfamiliar surface.  Yet, despite these challenges, D.C. United went toe-to-toe with Portland, and once again showed the ability to come from behind to twice tie the game despite going a goal down (something last year's team would never have done).

The concern after this game doesn't revolve around the physical tools the team has, nor their ability to play from behind.  Instead, the concern is about the mental concentration of the team when playing level or ahead in specific spots requiring it.  On Saturday night, all three goals came in specific situations in which mental concentration and toughness are universally emphasized by coaches (the beginning of halves, the end of halves, and on set pieces).  The irony being, of course, D.C. United needs to excel in these areas because even with the improved physical tools they have this season, they will rarely walk on the field with a significant talent advantage over their opponents.  This is a team which must be smart, mentally focused, and self aware enough to play within themselves.  Yet the mental aspect of the game is letting them down in individual games right now.

The Last Word:

The loss in Portland is certainly not a cause for panic, but it is another opportunity to lament what could have been.  With the season right at a quarter complete, this "what-could-have-been storyline" is unfortunately now part of the season's narrative.  And the loss to the Timbers was a microcosm of this tale.

In addition to the three concentration lapses against Portland, this game was also the third time D.C. United had given up a late-game goal (after the 75') to drop points.  As Ryan reminded us above, this has resulted in the Black-and-Red dropping 5 points already in the young season:

Date Home Team Visiting Team Goal Scorer Minute Final Result DCU Points Dropped/Gained
8-Mar-14 D.C. United Columbus Crew Federico Higuain (CLB) 90' 0-3 0
29-Mar-14 D.C. United Chicago Fire Quincy Amarikwa (Chi) 82' 2-2 -2
5-Apr-14 D.C. United New England Revolution Chris Rolfe (DCU) 90'+3' 2-0 0
19-Apr-14 Columbus Crew D.C. United Hector Jimenez (CLB) 90' 1-1 -2
3-May-14 Portland Timbers D.C. United Own Goal against POR (Mamadou Danso) 78' 2-3 0
3-May-14 Portland Timbers D.C. United Maximiliano Urruti (POR) 90'+3' 2-3 -1

There is a saying which helps to explain what it means when something happens three times:  "Once is an accident. Twice is coincidence. Three times is a trend."  On Saturday night, a lack of mental concentration happened three times in big spots, and it was the third time it has happened at the end of a game.  This is a trend the team needs to stop next week when it visits The Bridge or 2014 may become known as The Year That Could Have Been.

Is this the lack of mental concentration a trend?  An aberration?  How does the team get over it?

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