D.C. United knew going into the season, that the first half schedule would make for tough sledding. 12 of 14 games on the road to start the season, while waiting for Audi Field to be completed, would be a tall task for a team that missed the playoffs last year. And that meant that in those two ‘home’ games, United understood that three points were necessary to keep their season from getting out of control.
In the first half, United gifted two chances to the Dynamo, gift-wrapping two presents, sending them with express delivery towards their own goal. Houston took advantage of both, scoring twice in 1:35 to go into halftime with a two goal lead against what could have been a fragile United side.
Instead of folding like a lawn chair, United came out strongly in the second half, and by the 50th minute, had cut Houston’s lead in half, thanks to a goal from Darren Mattocks.
“This team has a little moxie to them,” Head Coach Ben Olsen said of the second half, in his post game press conference. “They were willing to come out of halftime, and put on a good performance, after a tough first half.”
United has made plenty of changes to the side that finished last in the Eastern Conference last year, and is still trying to integrate players into the side. That includes Joseph Mora, a left back, who recently joined the club. After not getting much of an opportunity to practice with his new team, he was thrust into a starting role against the Dynamo.
Neither goal in the first half was directly his fault, but it appeared that his lack of understanding with his teammates might have played a factor in the goals. Yamil Asad might have been trying to head back to Mora in the 30th minute, or play back to David Ousted in goal. In any case, Houston winger Alberth Elis was the first to react to the ball, and scored the opener.
And in the 31st minute, Mora had already turned his head and started moving up field when center back Frederic Brillant tried to play a pass to the left back. Elis once again pounced on the ball, and centered in for Mauro Manotas to finsih, giving Houston the two goal advantage.
That’s the type of issues that United is trying to work through, given the overturn on the roster from the end of the last season.
“We’re trying to get on the same page. I can’t tell you when exactly that will happen,” United defender Nick DeLeon told reporters after the game. “But I like the progress we are making. We have to keep moving that way, and eliminate the silly mistakes.”
In the second half, United rode a bit of luck, as Houston couldn’t capitalize on a couple of good scoring opportunities. With Mattocks scoring in the 50th minute, from a feed from Asad, United had changed the tenor of the game enough, and continued to push forward to try to find an equalizer.
Had they found the equalizer earlier, United might have been able to steal three points. David Ousted still might have come up for the 97th minute free kick, and Acosta’s finish might have given United the three points they were so desperate for.
Though it wasn’t to be, United can still draw upon their effort in the second half, as they face a challenging three game road trip, with trips to Columbus, Kansas City, and Toronto on the docket for the next three Saturdays.
“We gave up two soft goals. But credit to the changes Ben made. Credit to the resiliency of the group,” Mattocks, who has two goals on the season, told reporters. “We deserved all three points, based on how the game went, but coming from two goals down is never easy. Credit the guys to make a great comeback.”
If at the end of the season, United miss out on the playoffs by a slim margin, this will be one game to look back on as a missed opportunity. Mistakes could have been avoided, chances could have been taken. At the same time, thanks to Acosta’s late heroics, United might have been able to boost their momentum, helping them over the course of the rest of tough first half schedule.
“We definitely have to pick up points in the first half, you can’t get too far behind. Because then it would panicky when we are at home, to try to chase, and get back into the mix,” DeLeon said after the game. “We have to start picking up wins here to put us in a good position to make a run when we have that stint of home games.”