It may have been a home game. It may have been the opener. It may have been the debut of our Albanian Bomber, and return of two stellar attacking midfielders. But a scoreless draw still would have felt like an acceptable result tonight.
If the game stopped when the clock hit 90:00, we would have felt satisfied. But a stoppage time goal by the 2011 Rookie Of The Year CJ Sapong gave Sporting Kansas City a 1-0 victory. A scoreless draw would have been acceptable because lots of teams are going to lose their home games to SKC this year. Well D.C. United is one of them.
That second half from the Sporks was really an impressive effort. They're such a fun team to watch, when you're not playing against them. They constantly challenge the opponent's goal. That goal belongs to Bill Hamid though. No run-of-the-mill challenge is going to beat Hamid this year, apparently. He was perfect, saving all shots within his reach. The one goal wasn't.
Sporting Kansas City had far more chances and far more possession. The possession differential shouldn't be surprising. This was a team that was returning 10 starters from their last meeting against a team that was returning only six. Of course the SKC players are more familiar with each other. Of course they know where their teammates are going to go with the ball. But that doesn't quite explain why the Sporks were winning so many more of the 50-50 chances. Nor does it explain why so many passes from United players ended up on the feet of someone wearing blue.
All that possession must have led to some great chances for the visitors then, right? Well in the first half it didn't. And that's because the D.C. defense held its shape and shielded the goal. The defense played very well prior to the halftime whistle. Its no coincidence that United's deepest foray into Kansas City territory in the first half was started by Dejan Jakovic making one of his famed runs up the middle of the field and kicking out to Andy Najar.
The second half was different though, as Hamid was forced to make save after save. He was up to the task every time.
In one of our MLS Previews earlier this week, I named Hamid as the guy who could make the biggest impact for United this season. I mentioned that Hamid showed potential last year, but didn't necessarily single-handedly win any points, like great goalkeepers sometimes do. He was two minutes away from doing it tonight.
Turning to the other side of the ball, I'd like to see United challenge the opposing goalkeeper a bit more. Two of our best chances resulted in shots that went just wide - one from the foot of Chris Pontius as he broke through up the middle, and another from the head of Hamdi Salihi as he found himself unmarked in the box off a Robbie Russell cross. These were nice chances, but a shot on target is always preferable to a shot that goes just wide. No goalkeeper has ever given up a rebound on a shot that goes outside the post.
This team will improve. Dwayne De Rosario isn't going to turn in an awful performance every week. Branko Boskovic will make more of an impact at some point. The chemistry between Salihi, De Rosario, and Najar will develop. None of that was evident tonight, as the team looked very similar to the one that just kept repeatedly losing winnable matches down the stretch run of the 2011 season.
If this slow start is short-lived, we'll forgive our beloved D.C. United rather quickly. If it lasts much longer though, we could be looking back regretfully at the end of the year yet again.