No way around it, referee Matthew Foerster is the lede tonight. His decision early in the second half to award the Vancouver Whitecaps a penalty led to the game's only goal. And it was 100%, absolutely, without any doubt the wrong call. If you saw it live, you probably knew it on the first look, and the replays confirm it: D.C. United 'keeper Bill Hamid got the ball on his 48th minute challenge on Matt Watson before colliding with the onrushing Vancouver attacker. Even Watson didn't appeal for the call. Only one person at RFK Stadium missed the play, and he was the man in the middle. There was no foul, but Foerster blew his whistle anyway and pointed to the spot. Camilo Sanvezzo sent the ensuing penalty down the center as Hamid dove left, and that's all she wrote.
Except United were the better team tonight. The Black-and-Red controlled the first half, creating chances at the south end of RFK Stadium in numbers that they haven't at any other point this season. Granted, they flubbed all of them, but there's no denying that D.C. were the better team through the first 45. In just the second minute, Dwayne De Rosario saw his volley off a corner go narrowly wide as Whitecaps GK Brad Knighton stood helpless. In the seventh minute, Kyle Porter forced a save and drew Knighton out of his net before playing the ball to De Rosario, whose shot was deflected out for a corner by a back-tracking Vancouver defender. The best chance of all, though, came in the 16th minute, when Ethan White's through ball split the 'Caps D and put Chris Korb in behind. With DeRo all alone running at the six yard box, Korb squared behind the D.C. captain, and Chris Pontius' attempt was challenged (from behind) and went out for a goal kick. In the 35th minute, DeRo set up John Thorrington's shot with a back heel at the top of the box, but the former Whitecap could only put his attempt straight at Knighton.
Going into the half at zeroes, the home side had to feel a bit unfortunate not to be ahead. And then came the penalty. Kenny Miller put Watson through behind Ethan White and to the left of Hamid's goal. Then came the challenge and the whistle and the goal.
After Vancouver went 1-0, they were content to put bodies behind the ball and look for chances on the counter. United were forced to pass the ball around the edge of their attacking third, probing for soft spots and earning corner kicks but never really finding any other good chances. At the other end, Vancouver failed to generate much outside of one sequence that saw Hamid forced into two excellent saves on attempts by Jordan Harvey and Russell Teibert. As Ben Olsen turned to his bench, using all three subs on attackers between the 60th and 72nd minute, the lack of difference-makers on the bench came into stark focus (again).
Tonight was undeniably a better performance than we've unfortunately grown accustomed to this season, but it still wasn't enough. And the result is another loss. Behind 1-0, and even before, the Black-and-Red couldn't solve a Vancouver defense that's been anything but stout this season. Faster ball movement, better crossing, and smarter runs off the ball are all good things that we saw tonight, but the end product was only four shots on target from 23 attempts.
All that said, the team fought tonight, even if the air went out of their sales a bit after Vancouver's goal. United pressed for a goal against the parked bus that was the Whitecaps, right up until Bill Hamid's stoppage time yellow card for running through a Vancouver player in the Whitecaps box trying to head the ball toward Brad Knighton's goal. The hunger is there, even if the quality isn't at the moment. And when your season is one constant ebb the way United's has been, you won't get any favors from referees - and so the cycle continues.
We'll be back tomorrow with The Last Word to round up reaction from the team and other media. In the meantime, share your take on tonight's match in the comments.