For 88 minutes, D.C. United deserved a point in Kansas City. They were not the better team - not by any stretch - they weren't even really even, but they had played with Sporting Kansas City and completely denied them any clearcut scoring chances and were deservedly level at 0-0. Ben Olsen's plan to stymie the Sporks by forcing them to send in crosses and then defend D.C.'s width was working. Then it happened: We choked it away. In the 89th minute, deep in the corner to the right of Bill Hamid's goal, Marcos Sanchez and second half substitute Marcelo Saragosa conspired to turn the ball over to Soony Saad, who nutmegged Saragosa on the end line and crossed to Claudio Bieler, whose first-time shot would prove the winner.
The Black-and-Red were forced to use a less than full-strength side by injuries to
half the team Dwayne De Rosario (adductor muscle), Nick DeLeon (hamstring), Lewis Neal (pubic bone) and John Thorrington (MCL). Nevertheless, he surprised us by moving away from his 4-2-3-1 (a move that I said would "shock" me in my Behind Enemy Lines exchange this week) in favor of a flat 4-4-2, giving Marcos Sanchez the start on the right and - the real news here -handing Raphael Augusto his first ever start for D.C. United in the middle. As in the 2-1 loss to the Columbus Crew last month, Lionard Pajoy and Rafael partnered up front.
The early going looked very good for Olsen's XI, with Augusto finding space deep in midfield to keep the ball moving, change the point of possession by reversing field and otherwise direct United's attack. After Kansas City adjusted, though, Augusto found much less space (and much more getting kicked) and wasn't as game-changing, though he was still effective. That's about the point where KC came into the game and took over the possession statistic.
United's best chance of the game came - surprisingly or not - through Lionard Pajoy, who tracked down a long ball over the top into Sporting KC's corner during first half stoppage time (the same corner the Sporks' winner would eventually come from). With no teammates within good passing range, Pajoy took on Aurelien Collin and turned him inside out only to miss wide at Jimmy Nielsen's near post.
In all, the loss - United's third in five games this season - is certainly disappointing for the Black-and-Red, but there are signs of hope. Raphael Augusto showed why Ben Olsen and others in the United organization have called him the most technically gifted player they've worked with. Chris Pontius finally looked willing to put his stamp on the match and take on defenders 1v1. Perry Kitchen kept Benny Feilhaber quiet for long stretches of the night.
All that said, D.C. now have 2 goals from 5 games this season, and United need goals and points more than rays of sunshine - and quick. But we'll look at the future a little later; for now, let's focus on the night. What were your takeaways from the match? Who impressed and who left you underwhelmed? Let us know in the comments.