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The Last Word: D.C. United Plays Out a Familiar Script vs. New York

Despite the details of this game, D.C. United played out a standard script while losing the Atlantic Cup to the New York Red Bulls. No wonder the narrative sounds so familiar.

Tim Cahill doing what he does.
Tim Cahill doing what he does.
Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Well, the Atlantic Cup is no longer in the trophy case at RFK Stadium.  And really, the competition wasn't close this year following D.C. United's 2-1 loss to the New York Red Bulls at Red Bull Arena on Saturday night.  For the season, United saw its record against its most bitter rival drop to 0-2-1 (1 point total, and 4-1 for NYRB on aggregate goals).  While each of these three games had its own unique dynamics, each also played out according to one of a handful of scripts that have become all too familiar this season.

Their Words:

- Steven Goffvia Washington Post: "The Red Bulls (12-9-6) also claimed the Atlantic Cup, presented to the winner of the season series, for the third time in four years.  United (3-18-5) is 1-7-2 in the past 10 outings and 0-10-3 with only four goals scored on the road. "It's the way it's been going all year," midfielder Perry Kitchen said...United generated several quality chances in the second half but hit the crossbar, missed a penalty kick and couldn't take advantage of a shorthanded opponent in the last 20 minutes."

- Adam Taylorvia B&RU: "United had plenty of opportunities to put a second past Robles, but they couldn't put the finishing touch on the ball. A great series of one-touch passes set up Lewis Neal 10-yards from goal, but his effort missed wide. Later, Neal found himself a bit farther from goal - maybe 20-25 yards out - but his left-footed volley forced a good save from Robles and won a corner (which of course went for naught). Late in the second half, DeRo found the end of a beautiful early cross from the right side, but his header went horribly off-target. None of those was the worst of it, though, as none of those was a missed penalty. DeRo, after winning a penalty and a man advantage by forcing Ibrahim Sekagya to foul him in the box in the 72nd minute as the ball rolled - what should have been harmlessly - back to Robles, put the ball too close to the keeper, and his attempt was saved and ultimately cleared."

- Dan Karellvia "On a rare evening without Thierry Henry in the starting lineup, the New York Red Bulls put in a performance that was sure to make their coach proud after last Sunday's debacle. With two players making their starting debuts for the home side, the Red Bulls defeated rivals D.C. United, 2-1, on Saturday evening at Red Bull Arena, despite being reduced to ten men in the second half. The victory gave the Red Bulls the Atlantic Cup title, after losing it last season."

- Ben Olsenvia  "In the second half a lot of guys put everything they had out there; I mean we were exhausted. I think I worked them too hard this week... judging the legs that we had towards the end, I think I might have worked them a bit hard this week and I'll take some blame for that but the second half, the character that we showed was...I was really happy with it. Again, I feel like we are a little unlucky to not come out with at least something here.  I didn't think a lot was missing today, maybe we deal with the PK, maybe we are a little bit cleaner in our final third. It's no different than most teams you know, you foul up plays in the defensive half and you are not finishing on the offensive end. The goals were... I didn't like the goals, they were soft but again; I like this team, I like the group I have right now, I like the future for D.C. United and I'm not blowing smoke. You guys know me for a while; I do like a lot of what I see out of this team."

- Perry Kitchenvia  "Ultimately we have a championship game coming up that we are trying to prepare for so, all these games leading up to it are important. As much as it stinks that nothing is going our way in the league, we just have to stay positive and try to figure it out because in the second half there were good sequences, there were good chances, there were good opportunities and we just haven't been able to put it all together this year."

- New York coach Mike Petke on Luis Robles penalty save, via  "A pivotal moment in the game, for sure, if not the pivotal moment. We've had many pivotal moments. There will probably be another one next week, good or bad. Every week we have a pivotal moment and a big play, you know, that defines the season up to that point. But for this game that was incredible because it gave us a bit of a boost, confidence. We're down a man, they tie it up right there and it's going to be a real dogfight. So very, very big game changer."

- New York midfielder Lloyd Sam on playing D.C. United, via  "I mean it doesn't matter where they're at in the league because that didn't seem like playing the bottom team in the league right there. That was a difficult game and I'm guessing because of the rivalry that there is between the two teams, so it's always going to be extra incentive to beat a team that's a rival."

My Words:

D.C. United went down early in this match following Lloyd Sam's remarkable chip/cross that just beat the outstretched hand of Bill Hamid while getting the needed bounce off the frame that resulted in a goal as the ball then ricocheted off Hamid as he scrambled along the goalline.  Whether intentional or not, Sam's goal was somewhat reminiscent of New York's goal in the first game of the Eastern Conference playoffs last season when a Thierry Henry corner was headed back across the goal face in a looping manner that Hamid was unable to secure, resulting in NYRB drawing level with D.C. United 1-1.

Playing from behind, D.C. United generated several chances (including LEWIS NEAL's open shot from near the penalty spot that went just wide following a very nice team passing sequence), but also gave up too many opportunities to the Red Bulls.  United finally got the equalizing goal after a superb switch from Dwayne De Rosario found an open Nick DeLeon on the right side of the area near the touchline.  DeLeon then only needed two touches to control the ball and turn his defender before beating Luis Robles to the ball for his first league goal of the season.

Unfortunately, D.C. United only remained even with New York for two minutes before conceding the game winning goal on a header by Tim Cahill from a Jonathan Steele cross.  Daniel Woolard was in good position on Cahill for the header, but Cahill displayed his remarkable talent for winning headers and beat Hamid following Steele's dangerous cross that was too lightly defended by Dejan Jakovic.

The remaining 52 minutes played out with United chasing the tying goal again, coming close to scoring on several occasions, all while giving up several near chances to the Red Bulls.  In the end, the result was all too familiar as D.C. dropped to 3-18-5 (14 points) on the season with eight games left to play.

The Last Word:

If anything about the latest loss seems familiar, it's because it is.  This season, D.C. United has played out one of four scripts in almost all of their league games.  These scripts are:

- Script A:  D.C. United falls behind (normally early), is unable to score, and gives up additional goal(s) before losing handily (or badly)

- Script B:  D.C. United falls behind (normally early), starts to play significantly better, comes close to getting a result but falls short in the end

- Script C:  D.C. United gets an unexpected result

- Script D:  D.C. United gets an early 1-0 lead, but is unable to hold the lead

Here's my take on which script has played out in each game this season:

Opponent Result Script
Houston Dynamo 0-2 loss A
Real Salt Lake 1-0 win C
New York Red Bulls 0-0 draw C
Columbus Crew 1-2 loss B
Sporting Kansas City 0-1 loss late SKC goal
New York Red Bulls 0-2 loss A
Philadelphia Union 2-3 loss B
Columbus Crew 0-3 loss A
Houston Dynamo 0-4 loss A
FC Dallas 1-2 loss B
Sporting Kansas City 1-1 draw C
Portland Timbers 0-2 loss A
Chicago Fire 0-2 loss A
New England Revolution 0-0 draw C
Toronto FC 1-2 loss D
San Jose Earthquakes 1-0 win C
Vancouver Whitecaps 0-1 loss B
Seattle Sounders 0-2 loss A
Colorado Rapids 0-0 draw C
Chicago Fire 1-4 loss A
New England Revolution 1-2 loss D
Montreal Impact 3-1 win dominate DC win
Philadelphia Union 0-2 loss A
Montreal Impact 1-2 loss B
Toronto FC 1-1 draw D
New York Red Bulls 1-2 loss B

In the latest game against New York, the standard script played out even though the details of the game seemed more favorable to D.C. United.  NYRB coach Mike Petke did not start Henry, Jamison Olave, or Fabian Espindola, three of New York's top four scorers this season.  D.C. United was also awarded a penalty kick due to DeRo pressing what should have been a standard play for the Red Bulls' keeper and defender Ibrahim Sekagya, resulting in Sekagya receiving a red card with about 20 minutes left to play in the match.  True to the script, however, DeRo could not convert the penalty and D.C. United was unable to get the tying goal despite several late chances.

Fortunately for D.C. United, they've played to a different script during their improbable run to the US Open Cup final one month from now.  Four league games remain before that big match at Rio Tinto against RSL, and it would be reassuring for D.C. United fans to see the Black-and-Red break out of the standard league scripts in the month of September to show they are peaking in time for the Open final.

What do you think it will take to get the team into top form before Oct. 1? How does the team change the scripts for the rest of the season?

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