D.C. United faced a tough challenge at home on Wednesday night, having to fight several elements in order to win a big game against the Philadelphia Union. The Black-and-Red had little time to rebound from Sunday’s loss to the New York Red Bulls, and on top of that, had one less day to recover than their opponents at Audi Field. And, it was a game that United had to win, as they continue to chase several teams ahead of them in the playoff race.
So when CJ Sapong struck in the 29th minute, it was an uphill battle for United, who couldn’t recover from the deficit, and eventually lost 2-0 to the Union, to fall 12 points behind the fifth placed team in the Eastern Conference. With just 10 games left in their campaign, it was a loss that United could not afford.
“The loss hurts,” Head Coach Ben Olsen said after the game in his press conference.
United had a bright start to the action, with Wayne Rooney hitting the post early on, and then beating keeper Andre Blake with a lob in the 22nd minute, on a shot that drifted just wide at the far post.
But Sapong struck seven minutes later, and United seemed to be stuck in the mud for the rest of the game. It was a hot and humid night in the nation’s capital, with a water break on either side of the half for the players. Coupled with the short turnaround, the deficit was a back breaker for a United side that needed all three points.
“No excuses, they were the better team tonight, we didn’t deserve to win,” Rooney told reporters in the locker room after the game. “We were a bit sloppy.”
Olsen started 10 of the 11 players that started against the Red Bulls, with only an injured Yamil Asad absent. Zoltan Stieber got the start in midfield, but the Hungarian’s inclusion wasn’t enough to help United get over the hump on the night.
“They got the goal first, and that changed the game for the worst for us,” said Olsen. “You saw it in the second half. We were cooked.”
“We lacked quality on the night, and a lot of that is fatigue,” added Olsen. “The Red Bulls game was a physical match up that maybe took a little bit more out of us than I thought.”
Oniel Fisher had to be removed at halftime because of a tight hamstring, with Ulises Segura coming on, as Paul Arriola moved to right back. That switch did little to help United where they needed it the most though, as the attack continued to sputter in the final third, never producing more than shots that were easily saved by Blake in the second half.
But when the Union got in a good spot, with Sapong finding Fafa Picault in the 60th minute, the winger converted for Philadelphia, condemning United to their second ever loss at Audi Field.
“We had chances. Their second goal, that was the first time in the second half they got into that position, and a little bit of quality, and they punished us,” said Rooney. “We were maybe in that position five or six times, but maybe rushed the cross, rushed the pass.”
Darren Mattocks was brought on to aid United offensively, and Olsen added Frederic Brillant to the mix, hoping that the center back would provide more passing ability than Kofi Opare as United searched for three goals. Those additions had no bearing on the result though, as United were shut out for the second time in the past two games, after having been shut out only twice previously this season.
And once again, there is little time for United to lick their wounds. They welcome Atlanta United to Buzzard Point on Sunday, a team that has beaten them twice already this season. With Josef Martinez and company looking to win the Supporters Shield, and having not played since last Friday, the 5 Stripes will present another stiff test for a Black-and-Red team that is sliding after a recent three game winning streak.
“We have to take it on the chin and move on,” said Olsen.