This was a dangerous time to have to face the Montreal Impact. Expansion team or not. With only a few days' rest from a hard-fought win on the road against the New England Revolution, a high-pressure high-energy highly aggressive team like the Impact isn't who you might pick to face. That's the kind of team that's prone to take advantage of the slightest mistake, and they did tonight in a 1-1 draw against D.C. United at RFK Stadium.
The mistake came early in the second half, as a hastily taken Chris Korb throw was absorbed easily in midfield by the Impact and quickly pushed across the center line. Justin Mapp hit a perfect unmarked cross from the right wing that found the head of Bernardo Corradi, who stayed wide of Korb and finished easily into Joe Willis' net.
United was somewhat fortunate that the Impact were only able to capitalize once during the course of the match, especially with the incongruous play of the back line tonight. Robbie Russell became the third center back to pair with Brandon McDonald this season, and the unfamiliarity was displayed all over the field in the first 45 minutes. Players weren't reading each other well in midfield, and the ball was turned over far too often.
Head coach Ben Olsen called this "a disappointing tie" and it can be called nothing else. This United team could have and should have done better.
On the bright side of things, at least we can say that Ben Olsen is now that much closer to figuring out his best 11. It includes a lot of guys who didn't play many minutes tonight. If Maicon Santos plays this well for 90 minutes on Sunday, United might win handily.
In the press conference after the match, Olsen said that Santos needed a bit of a break, and that they've been pushing him hard all year. Bringing Santos off the bench was the difference in this match. Santos is having the best season of his career, and proved how big he can be by scoring the lone goal for United with a well-placed shot from outside the box and coming inches away from remaining onside to add the winner as well. All that and it was his 28th birthday too.
I hate to imagine where this team would be in the standings without Maicon Santos.
We all tend to react with strong emotions in both positive and negative directions immediately following a match. Looking at the greater picture though, this wasn't a bad result in the grand scheme of the 2012 season. As fans, we should be fairly satisfied with a 2-2-3 record in late April. Its an improvement over previous seasons, and its a lot better than most of the rest of the Eastern Conference.
And it's another game without a loss. Five straight now, to be exact.
Earning a draw with such a different lineup and such a different style of attack from what had worked in previous games isn't a terrible result. It feels more disappointing when we reflect on the fact that the "different lineup" meant that designated player Branko Boskovic and two of our most normally consistent attackers Chris Pontius and Andy Najar got to start. But nonetheless, this was far from our apparent best 11. Our best 11 is the 11 that won in New England, and dominated FC Dallas two weeks prior.
That 11 is far more likely to start on Sunday against the New York Red Bulls, and far more likely to leave RFK as victors.