We spent this week wondering why the national media was underrating D.C. United so much. Why was this team getting so little credit for averaging three goals in its last four matches? For having only one loss in nine matches? Were we the only ones that noticed?
The D.C. fanbase had collectively agreed that United was sitting at or near the top of the second tier in MLS. Just a bit of consistency away from Real Salt Lake. A healthy center back away from the San Jose Earthquakes. Were we wrong?
For 28 minutes, we weren't wrong. For 28 minutes, United looked superior to the Houston Dynamo in their brand new BBVA Compass Stadium. For 28 minutes, it looked like we might steal the show. But then, disaster struck. It struck the knee of the player that had been the best wearing black to that point. For the second United/Dynamo match in a row, D.C. lost its most important defensive player to an injury. First Emiliano Dudar, and now Perry Kitchen.
This part of the schedule has been tough for D.C. United. And it doesn't get immediately easier either. On only three day's rest, United will be facing a Colorado Rapids team on Wednesday that hasn't taken the field for 10 days. Not a good time to have three of your four most important players out injured. Its enough to make a man want to lock Dwayne De Rosario in a padded cell.United entered the day just three points behind Sporting Kansas City for first place in the Eastern Conference. They'll leave the day no higher. A good effort from the back line wasn't enough. On the few occasions when they did give up good chances to the Dynamo, the capable Bill Hamid was there to make a stop.
Well, all but once.
To christen Houston's new stadium, Brad Davis managed to loop a left-footed shot out of Hamid's reach and into the net. The goalkeeper just barely got a touch on the ball, but not enough to change its course. The open look that Davis received shouldn't have happened though, and it wouldn't have happened with Kitchen still in the game. The defensive midfielder's replacement, Stephen King, was standing idly by, marking no one in particular, allowing De Rosario to attempt to do the dirty work for him. Give Davis space and he'll use it. He did.
United gave up just one goal though. With a depleted defense, that's a pretty good showing. Brandon McDonald and Daniel Woolard were great in the middle. Chris Korb had easily his best game of the season. In all of our previous matches in the last month, allowing only a single goal would be enough to collect at least a point. And it should have been today too.
If not for the suddenly reappearing deficiencies up top, United could have ruined the Dynamo's home debut. But De Rosario seemed off. Maicon Santos failed to convert his chances, and the positive play of Andy Najar and Chris Pontius was wasted.
A 1-0 loss was a surprising scoreline going in. We didn't expect this letdown from the attack. The good news is that I don't expect that we'll see it again often. Houston's defense today looked more like its 2011 version than its 2012 version. That is to say one of the best in the league.
The good news about this scheduling is that the United players don't have to dwell on losses for long. They'll have a chance to right this wrong just a few nights later. Unfortunately, they'll have to do it without Dudar, without Nick DeLeon, and now without Kitchen too.