I'm willing to concede that this just wasn't our night.
And that's okay, I guess. It's disappointing, but it doesn't change our overall outlook on the season. It doesn't change what we think this D.C. United team can accomplish when all is said and done.
In United's 5-3 loss to the San Jose Earthquakes, we learned tonight that our back line isn't very good without its two best center backs. Actually, we already knew that. Actually that statement is probably true about most soccer teams that have ever taken the field.
If we learned anything tonight, its that the Earthquakes are the best team in MLS at this time. I'm a believer now. I may hate Steven Lenhart (we all should), but I respect the hell out of San Jose's attacking ability.
United were only the second team this season to score more than one goal on the Earthquakes, and the team deserves credit for that. The offense also deserves credit for fighting through to the final whistle. Dwayne De Rosario doesn't quit. And neither, apparently, does Hamdi Salihi. If Salihi's goal in the dying stages of this match does indeed open up the floodgates for him as we've been predicting for some time, the loss will be worth it.
In United's victory over the Houston Dynamo last week, we discussed how the team's offense was able to bail out the defense for the first time all year. Well that didn't happen tonight, but the offense deserves none of the blame. The D.C. offense did enough to win this game, but the defense couldn't keep the Earthquakes out of the net. Under sustained pressure from sustained possession, the defense caved and fell apart time and time again. More often even than the five goals that showed up on the scoreboard at the end of the night.
No fans or pundits had predicted Perry Kitchen to play center back, but that's where he was utilized tonight. He didn't look comfortable, and it cost the team substantially. Robbie Russell appeared to be trying too hard to cover for Kitchen's deficiencies, losing track of his own responsibilities in the process. Marcelo Saragosa, Kitchen's replacement in defensive midfield, looked lost and unsure of his position on both of the first two goals.
Those are all solvable issues though. They aren't predictors of future defeats. This United team doesn't need wholesale changes. The only thing this United team needs is a few more Dudars.
Unfortunately, the team that the Earthquakes beat tonight was the best 11 of healthy United players. Many of them are spent, leading Ben Olsen towards the natural inclination to make a few lineup changes on Saturday against Toronto FC. Some of those seem obvious to us - Bill Hamid for Joe Willis, Andy Najar for Danny Cruz, Salihi for Chris Pontius. Other potential changes may happen due to the poor defensive performances we saw in San Jose. Might we see Chris Korb or Lewis Neal get a start? Might Dejan Jakovic be healthy enough to join United as the team travels to his home country?
Sorrow is a nautral emotion to feel when you've just seen your team give up five goals. Keep in mind though that the team that scored those five goals is now leading the league in that department. Keep in mind too that this was an intra-conference game, spanning three time zones on short rest. And finally, keep in mind that Kevin Payne's Emiliano Dudar cloning machine is probably almost complete by now. Right?