D.C. United has been asking for this for weeks. They've been asking for this for months.
Too many times now has United given its opponents more possession, more scoring chances, a tactical advantage, and yet still D.C. comes out on top. Not tonight though. Tonight, United finally met a team willing and able to punish those deficiencies. Tonight, even another excellent showing from Bill Hamid wasn't enough to keep three goals out of the net. Because for all their faults throughout their history, the New York Red Bulls played a really excellent match, sending a message to United that first place won't come so easy.
The U.S. Open Cup loss to the Philadelphia Union wasn't enough to send that message to United. They failed to control the game against the Union last week, and they failed again tonight. But when the Red Bulls sent their message tonight, through two great strikes from former United player Brandon Barklage, it was received.
It was clear to me that Ben Olsen and United received the message because the game changed after Jan Gunnar Solli scored the third goal for New York. Maybe it wasn't a message from the Red Bulls that changed the game actually. Maybe it was Branko Boskovic.And it was Maicon Santos too. Once again Ben Olsen's substitutes made a significant positive impact on a match. Boskovic was spraying passes inside and out with precision, but it was Santos who made the best pass of the game - a spectacular through ball that put Chris Pontius in on goal against an overmatched Ryan Meara. It was Pontius' fifth goal against the Red Bulls this year. His fourth was just as impressive, set up so perfectly by Dwayne De Rosario and Danny Cruz in the first minute. The fastest goal in D.C. United history put the team on pace for a 180-0 scoreline, but the final score wasn't quite so favorable.
United was second best throughout the first 55 minutes of the match. The Red Bulls were beating them to every ball in the midfield, to every clearance, to every long ball. And unlike the Union, unlike Toronto FC, unlike the New England Revolution, the Red Bulls actually did something with the ball when they got it.
United's been asking for some team to come along and put three goals on the board. One finally did.
This was a rude awakening for D.C. United. It was a message. If they received it, then it won't have to happen again.