One could certainly not fault Bobby Boswell and Chris Rolfe, the D.C. United player representatives for the Players' Union, for being a bit distracted coming into the home leg with Costa Rican side L.D. Alajuelense Wednesday night. After two long and intense days of negotiation (which included at least one strike vote by the Union), the players had to switch back into the mode of trying to avenge a subpar effort in their first leg and score/win by three goals over the Manudos, and did not know how the final vote would play out before coming to the game. Ultimately while a new Collective Bargaining Agreement has been struck and D.C. United scored two goals tonight, two does not equal three, particularly if you allow an additional one at home, and the team was eliminated from CONCACAF Champions League play 6-4 on aggregate despite winning 2-1 at RFK Stadium.
Our Words (Steven Streff): "(Fabian) Espindola tied United's club record of goals scored in the Champions League with a penalty in the 89th minute. Chris Rolfe, who had early subbed on for Chris Pontius, won a penalty as he tried to turn in a Conor Doyle cross. Espindola expertly finished the penalty, moving him into a tie with Christian Gomez with four Champions League goals for United. But at that point, it was a mere consolation, as United couldn't muster up the requisite two goals in stoppage time."
Steven Goff (Washington Post): "Needing to win by three goals Wednesday, D.C. United got one-third of the way there before halftime against Costa Rican club Alajuelense in the rain at RFK Stadium...But after failing to capitalize on a flurry of opportunities, United conceded a debilitating equalizer, all but sealing its fate in the 2014-15 CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals. D.C. did end up winning, 2-1, but it was a hollow triumph."
Pablo Maurer (MLS Soccer): "A game that was already testy boiled over just before halftime. D.C. head coach Ben Olsen was shown to the locker room after a vocal exchange with the referee; shortly thereafter, players from both sides were shown yellows — six in total were issued in the first half — after a post-whistle shoving match."
We mentioned last week that in between a team that seemed to only score a pantload of goals when Luis Silva on the field, not having him available for Wednesday night's game, combined with Ben Olsen coached squads not being particularly strong starters out of the gate, it was going to be a tough get for D.C. United to seriously flirt with advancing to the semifinals, much less do the advancing. But like last week's game, it seemed like the Black and Red hit the snooze on the alarm, starting from the opening whistle.
But this was a call of a different sort, starting from the opening moments, when Porfirio Lopez was rolling around on the ground in the fifth minute after an innocuous foul from Fabian Espindola. Alajuelense knows how to CONCACAF which again, in contrast to the D.C. United players and coach who have done so before and seemed to forget about it, was a letdown. This culminated in Ben Olsen's first half ejection which, any way you slice it, was an juvenile error in judgment. If your team is up 1-0 and going into halftime with two goals to make up, despite heads on the field being hot, Olsen should have kept his so he could, you know, coach. And for 135 minutes, with a team that had made poor defensive decisions, had errors in goaltending in their first 90, the coach going off was the last in a series of blunders the team made over the last week resulting in its CONCACAF ouster.
The Last Word:
Oh CONCACAF, you are a cruel mistress. We love you so, but then we take you for granted, forget about you for years and eventually stop returning your calls. You then come back into our lives, holding a Baretta on us, and you shoot us before jumping out the window, your Harriet Bird to our Roy Hobbs. Of course, the best part remains that all of New York remains envious, because they would love to have this kind of drama, they know it, and they'll never have it. However and again, for a team that prides themselves on being battle tested in Major League Soccer with a side of CCL play, the team should have avoided wallowing in the mire.
That out of the way, on more than one occasion Wednesday night the team's big weakness showed through. Sure, having Jairo Arrieta and Fabian Espindola at the forward positions at the same time produced goals for both (the latter on a PK after Arrieta was subbed off), though it seemed at times Arrieta played a bit more deeper and closer to Perry Kitchen and Davy Arnaud while Espindola did what Espindola does. And on more than one occasion, this positioning by Arrieta and others led to a support ball to a midfielder that they expected to be there, but when your midfielders are Perry Kitchen and Davy Arnaud, you may find yourself passing to no one in a D.C. United jersey, as was the case tonight. We understand and respect Bennyball for its tactical and financial acumen, but if you are going to have two midfielders who cannot match the activity, distribution, the frisson de la vie that comes with being the hub of a soccer team offense, you are going to have troubles, and D.C. United had just that, regardless of who tends goal for them.
Additionally and on a related note, has someone put the Amber Alert out for Chris Pontius yet? How about now?
If there is anything to take from this game, it's that there is a game on Saturday of the regular season variety. The season kicks off with D.C. hosting the Montreal Impact, coming off their own CCL play, with their own CCL ejected coach to boot! It promises to be a tired, drab affair with a few players likely playing their third match in 10 days on March 7 and looking every bit as leggy as you would expect them to. But while the Black and Red have the following week off, one should note that it was to be a week where they expected to have had some rest ahead of Leg 1 of the CCL semifinals where they could be facing this same Impact squad.
Hopefully it serves as a reminder of what could have been, particularly now that Espindola starts serving his six-match suspension. But hopefully it serves as a larger reminder to Ben Olsen that the Eastern Conference pack is ready to jump, and he is going to need to be prepared for it (and two other tournaments which happen in season), but soon.