On yet another maddening night in a horrible season, D.C. United fell 2-1 to the New England Revolution in Foxboro, MA. United struggled with the ball throughout the match, while the Revs managed to create few opportunities themselves despite most of the game taking place with United on the back foot. To complete a trifecta of crap, referee Juan Carlos Rivero missed what should have been a clear red card, awarded a goal scored by an obviously offside player, and called a penalty kick that looked dubious at best. in other words, everyone involved sucked, but the Revs just sucked a little less.
After an adequate start - United was pushing into the Revolution half, but the teams seemed to struggle with the low-quality turf at Gillette Stadium - the visitors were gifted a lead. Luis Silva cleverly touched the ball past AJ Soares to get into a dangerous spot at the top of the box. After smartly holding up the ball to draw attention, Silva chipped an inviting pass into the middle for the hard-charging John Thorrington. Before Thorrington - or goalkeeper Matt Reis, who was coming off his line to attempt to claim the cross first - could get to the ball, however, rookie defensive midfielder Scott Caldwell's attempt to block the pass ended up diverting it on goal. Thorrington wheeled away as if he'd scored himself as the ball bounced over the line to make it 1-0 in the 11th minute.
Soon thereafter, United caught a second lucky break. Dejan Jakovic - who was already on a yellow card - and Revs striker Dimitry Imbongo went down after colliding as they both pursued a through ball into the DC box. On the replay, Jakovic was clearly pulling Imbongo's jersey. Given the circumstances, another card (possibly even a straight red) was probably merited. Instead, referee Jose Carlos Rivero had a word with Imbongo (something that happened numerous times in the early stages of the match), who was typically abrasive with United's center backs throughout.
Much of the rest of the first half saw United trying to stay organized at the back as the Revolution held the majority of possession while looking for chances to beat Black-and-Red defenders on the dribble. Despite some dangerous moments - Lee Nguyen's 26th minute shot in particular only just missed - United largely managed to defend facing upfield rather than having to turn and chase. Going the other way, United's brief counters were largely fruitless, though Thorrington did appear to clip the very top of the crossbar right before halftime after Nick DeLeon had surged through the midfield on a counter.
In the second half, the Revs picked the pressure up and appeared to get their own slice of fortune. Nguyen found himself in space in the DC box, but Jakovic made a clean touch to poke the ball away from him before a shoulder-to-shoulder collision sent the slight Revs midfielder to the ground. Rivero missed the contact with the ball as well as the nature of the collision and pointed to the spot. DC wouldn't pay the price for that error, though, because Bill Hamid ended up with a pretty routine save to make on Nguyen's very poor 57th minute PK.
Unfortunately, New England wouldn't waste their second good break, which came barely a minute later. Saer Sene's clipped through ball was perfectly weighted for Diego Fagundez, but the Uruguayan-born starlet was offside when the ball was struck. The flag never came up from the assistant referee, and Fagundez bagged his 11th goal of the season by slotting the ball neatly underneath the advancing Hamid.
The pressure continued, as the Revs continued to have all the meaningful possession. Nguyen crashed a bending long shot off the bar in the 68th minute and had his immediate follow-up tipped around the post by Hamid. United occasionally counter-punched, with Lewis Neal's meek roller in the 77th minute the first actual shot on goal for the Black-and-Red on the night.
The next shot didn't take long, however, as United produced their best chance of the night. Jakovic's long clearance was headed poorly by Andrew Farrell, allowing DeLeon to nod it on for substitute Conor Doyle, who held off a defender and touched the ball over the advancing Reis. Unfortunately for United, Reis was able to recover and claw the ball away a yard shy of the goal line. Kyle Porter corralled the rebound, but either a) opted to shoot despite having DeLeon wide open at the top of the six yard box or b) did attempt to cross, but struck the ball poorly. Either way, the ball ended up in the mitts of Reis as the opportunity passed.
That would prove crucial on the very next attack. The Revs moved the ball smoothly from left to right, and eventually Caldwell played Nguyen into the box. Nguyen looked inside but moved straight forward, and Neal's tackle was half a step too late. Unlike the first PK, this one was a clear foul. More importantly, this PK was different because it went into the goal. After refusing to step aside for Kelyn Rowe or Chris Tierney as the penalty kick taker, Nguyen's quasi-Panenka sent Hamid the wrong way to make it 2-1 in the 83rd minute.
United tried to press forward to pursue an equalizer, but collectively offered little beyond hopefully chasing the ball as the Revs knocked it around. That all-too-familiar helpless feeling United fans have experienced at the end of most of our games was back once again. In fact, United's best look at an equalizer came in stoppage time, and was simply a loose ball from a long free kick by Hamid that fell at the top of the box. In the end, the Revs cleared and almost scored through Jerry Bengtson, who fortunately chose to dally over the ball - allowing the formerly stranded Hamid to get into position - before shooting over.
Here are the highlights, if you can call them that:
All told, United could be very bitter about the officiating, but should look in the mirror first. New England was rather poor on the night, and quite frankly even this United team is capable of taking the points when faced with a mid-table team that isn't offering up their best. Instead of taking advantage, United was sloppy on the ball throughout the game, and for long stretches appeared to have no connection between midfield and the attack. Rather than go on about the refs, this team needs to take note of the fact that Reis didn't have to make a save until the 77th minute.
If this match was indeed the dress rehearsal for the US Open Cup final coming up on October 1st, it bodes poorly for United's chances. Ben Olsen is largely expected to field reserves and monitor minutes next weekend against Toronto FC in a game so lacking in meaning that it may make us all nihilists. If this was indeed his best eleven, only Hamid delivered a performance worthy of a team capable of going on the road and standing up to one of MLS's best sides.