So here's the thing when you're a really, really bad team: Results that might be encouraging, grind-out-a-bad-night sort of draws on a team pushing for playoff position have to be viewed as either manna from heaven or else symptomatic of the team's futility and thus, simply not good enough. Depending on which part of last night's D.C. United team you were looking at last night, you could have seen a bit of both in the scoreless road draw against the Colorado Rapids.
First, the manna: D.C. backup goalkeeper Joe Willis had himself a night to remember. Seven saves - some of them highlight reel worthy, and no goals conceded? That's doing work. With starter Bill Hamid away on Gold Cup duty with the USMNT, Willis stepped in with a Man of the Match performance, bailing out his defense with good positioning and spectacular reaction saves.
The not-so-good: everybody else on the field for United. While Colorado put seven shots onto Willis' goal, United mustered just six attempts the entire game, only two of which forced Rapids GK Clint Irwin into saves. There have been matches where United had some statistical superiority to find comfort in, but last night wasn't one of them; Colorado were superior in every aspect of the game, both statistically and aesthetically. Most of Ben Olsen's XI can most charitably be described as invisible. This draw was more like the Rivalry Week draw in New Jersey against the Red Bulls early in the year: United had no business walking away with a point, but thanks to some head-standing between the sticks (then by Bill Hamid, now by Joe Willis), Ben Olsen got the point he came for.
Even then, though, the Metros match provides an imperfect analogue to Sunday night. Back in week 3, United were on three points from two games, one of them a shutout win over a strong, if young Real Salt Lake side. Adjusting for some injuries and playing for the draw against an amped up Red Bulls team to bank whatever points you can early in the year may have made some sense. At this point, though, even with injuries and overuse plaguing the team (playing its fifth game in 16 days), what good is one standings point? It became pretty clear in the gamethread last night that fans don't want moral victories like gutted-out road draws; we want actual wins, where United scores more goals than the other team, the likes of which we've seen only twice in league play this year. A well-played draw, like last month's road result against the New England Revolution might be acceptable as a building block and confidence-builder, but performances like last night's do next to nothing for anybody not named Joe Willis.
It was another guileless, plodding attack from United as players from back to front took too long to make decisions about what to do with the ball, and runs behind the defense either went unmade or unrewarded. But there is some solace to take. First, Joe Willis has officially earned himself a BAMF card, and if he can maintain this level of play - let alone build upon it - United will be in good hands for the remainder of July while Hamid is with the national team. Plus, we saw Taylor Kemp play his best professional game to date, and we saw Casey Townsend - nonsensical time-wasting notwithstanding - put in as good a shift up top in his substitute role as he's had all year.
There is also the matter of the international transfer window, which opens tomorrow, and the fact that United will not play a league match again until July 20. The Black-and-Red have already brought in a young American, in Jared Jeffrey, who will help shore up the midfield and prevent us from playing Alain Rochat out of position or playing James Riley at all. Indications are that we should be welcoming at least a couple new players from abroad during the month-long summer window. The new faces won't let United totally salvage the wreckage of 2013, but this is where the foundation for 2014 and future success must be built, and for better or worse, it is likely where the fate of Ben Olsen's and Dave Kasper's jobs will finally be determined.
What did you think of the match? Think there's more we should focus on than Joe Willis and players not yet a part of United? Let us know in the comments.