Five changes to the lineup, a new twist on the formation and a focus on attacking the game early. Ben Olsen finally threw the kitchen sink at D.C. United's six-game losing streak on Saturday night. But it wasn't enough, as the Black-and-Red dropped a 2-1 result to FC Dallas in Frisco, Tex.
United started well enough, controlling possession through the midfield trio of Perry Kitchen, Raphael Augusto and Dwayne De Rosario and pressing Dallas all around the field. The pressure led to a quick breakaway for Casey Townsend, making his first start and appearance of the year, whose shot was saved off the post by the shoulder of Hoops 'keeper Chris Seitz in the ninth minute.
Not two minutes later, though, United fell prey to a familiar plague: the early goal. Eric Hassly found space at the top of Joe Willis' box and squared to Jackson as the Brazilian ghosted into the channel between center back Ethan White and fullback Chris Korb. Two touches and an upper 90 finish later, D.C. were in the unfortunately familiar position of playing from behind.
United would draw level late in the first half, scoring their first road goal of the season in the 44th minute. After a spell of solid pressure on the Dallas defense, United won a foul just outside the home side's 18-yard box. A training ground-style indirect touch-stop-shoot was enough for Dwayne De Rosario to beat the Toros' onrushing wall and score at Seitz's far post to level the match into halftime.
An apparent injury (or possible exhaustion-slash-lack of fitness) to Raphael Augusto, whose link and attacking play next to DeRo in Olsen's 4-1-4-1 was the defining feature of United's possession to that point in the game, changed things in the 70th minute. Once he was replaced by Brandon McDonald - who slotted into the midfield for the first time since his arrival from San Jose in 2011 - United failed to create any sustained possession or much of any danger going forward. From that point on, a Dallas winner became more and more likely.
And it didn't take long. In the 77th minute, after a series of mistakes in the back gifted Dallas two consecutive corners, the other shoe dropped. Michel's corner sailed over Joe Willis to the back post, where Je-Vaughn Watson had gotten goal-side of James Riley. Watson chested the ball into the net for what would stand up as the game-winner.
As we're getting entirely too used to saying, this game had some of the best stretches of play we've seen this year from los Capitalinos, but it just wasn't enough. The fight and aggression were there, the combinations were there, and - for the first time this season - some of the ideas were there. But none of them in enough quantity or quality to stand toe-to-toe with the top team in MLS so far this year and come out with anything other than a loss.
So it's back to the drawing board and the trainer's table - where Chris Pontius has spent the last couple weeks - as United return home next Sunday afternoon to take on... oh, Christ... Sporting Kansas City, who have beaten us in roughly the last 800 times we've played. Joy!
We'll update with the highlights package just as soon as it's available. (UPDATE: Highlights embedded below.) Look for the Last Word on the game tomorrow. In the meantime, give us your initial reactions to the game in the comments.