Sandy, Utah, is a pleasant place. Nice fans, a beautiful stadium, and breathtaking scenery. Despite all this, D.C. United's visit to the Wasatch Range was not a pleasure trip, as they were soundly thumped by their Real Salt Lake hosts during Saturday night's 3-0 loss. The performance was one we hadn't seen from D.C. United since the opening match of the season, reminding us we can't assume they will be competitive in every game going forward. Despite all the well-earned accolades the D.C. United defense has garnered this season, which ironically reached a crescendo this past week following the MLS All-Star game due to the excellent performances of Bobby Boswell, Sean Franklin, and Bill Hamid, Saturday night showed us good defense is earned each and every game by focused effort and grit; it's not something which just appears every time D.C. United takes the field.
ChestRockwell: "Maybe D.C. United just used up all their Utah karma last year in the US Open Cup final. No matter the cause, United was not ready at kickoff and Real Salt Lake took full advantage, scoring twice in the first 13 minutes and adding a third in the 24th to win 3-0 at Rio Tinto Stadium. After Joao Plata opened the scoring, center back Chris Schuler scored twice, both on assists from Javier Morales...The goals against were not some sort of once-in-a-season series of flukes; rather, they underlined RSL's early dominance. Virtually from the opening kickoff, Real was in control."
Steven Goff, via washingtonpost.com: "For the second straight weekend, D.C. United squandered a chance to climb atop MLS's Eastern Conference and the league's overall standings. And this time, the outcome was never in question, sticking the club with its first losing streak in five months. In the poorest performance of an otherwise uplifting season, United conceded three goals in 13 minutes of the first half Saturday night and suffered a 3-0 defeat to Real Salt Lake before a sellout crowd of 20,452 at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah...On this miserable night, United lacked only a red card - and that should have come before halftime when Eddie Johnson, in a moment of frustration and petulance after committing a foul, intentionally slammed the ball at the fallen opponent, Carlos Salcedo. He was fortunate to receive just a yellow card. The MLS disciplinary committee will not look kindly on Johnson's actions and could issue a suspension."
Scott Pierce, via mlssoccer.com: "It didn't make up for losing the 2013 U.S. Open Cup final, but Real Salt Lake's win over D.C. United on Saturday night sure helped in the standings. The Claret-and-Cobalt's 3-0 win lifted them into first place in the Western Conference and into a tie for first place in the Supporters' Shield race - pending the outcome of a couple of games on Sunday. Not only that, but RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando set the all-time MLS record for career shutouts at 113, a week after he tied the mark set by retired ‘keeper Kevin Hartman. And Rimando did it against the team that traded to him to Salt Lake in 2007."
RSL Soapbox: "On a night when Nick Rimando could pull ahead of the all time MLS shutout, Real Salt Lake look determined from the first half and ended up having arguably their best game of the year. RSL opened up their account for the game in the 11th minute with a nice header goal from Joao Plata off of a nice pass from Luke Mulholland. A couple minutes later, Schuler got a goal from point blank range off of an unbelievable assist from Javier Morales. Who would have thought that Plata would head one in and Schuler would put one in with his feet?"
Tyler Gray, via soccerbyives.net: "RSL hadn't gotten a goal from their defense all season long until Schuler decided it was about time. His first goal came just two minutes after the opening goal when he made a surging near post run and poked Javier Morales' low cross into the goal. His second was all power when he rose up during a corner kick in the 24th minute and headed the ball into the back of the net with authority. Schuler rose his arms defiantly into the air an homage to Russell Crowe's Gladiator, seemingly asking the crowd, "Are you not entertained?""
Ben Olsen, via dcunited.com: "It was an extremely poor first half, obviously. We were just off the pace. They came in hungrier than we did; they came in with more energy, more commitment, and we're not a good enough team to not have a chip on our shoulder when we play. I think hopefully we learned that lesson tonight. I want to congratulate Nick Rimando. There's nobody better to have that record than him. He's a dear friend and I'm proud of him. He's been a huge part of the success that Salt Lake has seen over the years."
Ben Olsen, via dcunited.com: On giving up two set piece goals. "It's not like us, so hopefully it's a one-off. We've been pretty good with that stuff this year. Again, it's just important to learn from this and move on to try and fix it next week."
Real Salt Lake Coach Jeff Cassar, via dcunited.com: "I felt like things were going good right from the get-go. Right from the first whistle, we kept applied pressure and kept it on. We knew it wasn't going to be an easy game, but we didn't want to let [D.C. United] gain any confidence. We wanted to keep our foot on the gas."
LEWIS NEAL!, via dcunited.com: "Obviously, coming back to Salt Lake, I have some good memories from last season, but they were soon wiped away after tonight's performance. [Real] Salt Lake came out, as we knew they would, firing on all cylinders. [They scored] a flood of goals, we started so slow and so sluggish. We were climbing a heavy mountain then, and we didn't turn up tonight at all. None of our guys were up to standards that we have been most of the season. Overall, pretty good memories, but tonight, leaving with a bit of a sour taste in our mouths...We've got a hell of schedule coming up. We've just got to make sure, as much as this hurts - the defeat here and the performance is not good - we've got to try and put this one behind us very, very quickly. Move on to the home game against Colorado, and we play Champions' League midweek - you know, two home games and we've got to make sure we're back firing on all cylinders and make sure we go out there and get the points because we've got a very, very tough road trip - KC, LA, NY so it's going to be difficult period for us."
Fabian Espindola, via dcunited.com: On coming back to his former MLS club. "It feels great. It's good to be back here. I always liked the people here, so it's great to be back...I think we had no chance against them. [They are] great with the ball. They managed the entire game. They were the better team."
Real Salt Lake Goalie Nick Rimando, via dcunited.com: On getting the record against D.C. "It doesn't really make a difference that I got it against D.C. It's good to have a friend in town, in Ben [Olsen]. We had breakfast this morning. As much as he didn't want me to get that shutout, I know he's proud of me. It shows that he is a class guy that losing the way he did, that he still came over and congratulated me. Obviously getting the win is very important. D.C. is a team that I have a lot of respect for and have a lot of memories there. D.C. or any other team in the league, as long as I got the record...I don't think that any shutout is just for myself. I might have my name on the shutout but it's a committed effort from the team. This is not only my record. My name is on it but there are a lot of guys that should be getting credit for this too. Nat Borchers, Eddie Pope, Ryan Nelson, Chris Schuler, Tony Beltran, there are a lot of players. Man, I've been around a long time. But there are a lot of people that need to get credit for the record that I achieved tonight."
Saturday night's destruction at the hands of RSL was not a pretty sight to behold, whether you were watching the game on TV, streaming it online, or were there in person. D.C. United was utterly outplayed in all phases of the game in a manner which hadn't occurred since their 2014 opening night loss to the Columbus Crew by the same score line. The Black-and-Red followed the Crew loss with another shutout loss (1-0 on the road at Toronto FC), but they played better against the Red, and their better play quickly resulted in the excellent run of results United enjoyed until this past week.
The fact the Black-and-Red lost on the road to a Western Conference power isn't really surprising, but the fact they were played off the field was disappointing. Again, most MLS teams (even the really good ones), have a game or two like this during the season, but we've grown used to D.C. United being competitive in 2014 during every game, no matter the opponent and no matter where it's played. But, losing by 3 goals is a sobering wake up; this team can't just show up and guarantee it keeps a game close. And, with the brutal schedule upcoming, now is the time to learn this lesson.
The Last Word:
I'm not panicked yet about United's current 2-game losing streak. Sure, it's awfully timed considering the congested August schedule, but with the next game at RFK Stadium against a Western Conference team (the Colorado Rapids), the hometown team remains in excellent position for a playoff spot (and frankly will be for several more weeks no matter what their future results are). Having their first CONCACAF Champions League (CCL) match at home (against Waterhouse) is also a plus.
What is concerning, however, is the breach the RSL result puts in the confidence this team and its fans had in their defense. Since the opening loss of the season, D.C. United's defense (including goalies Bill Hamid and Andrew Dykstra) has ensured they are in every game. Saturday night, they weren't in the game, and the multi-goal loss is the first since opening night.
Next weekend's match against Colorado is now crucial. Of course all league games seem big right now, but D.C. United must right the ship to get their confidence back before heading out on the road for their upcoming league matches. The home match against Waterhouse in CCL will help rebuild needed confidence as well. Win those two games, and the loss against RSL becomes an aberration. Lose to Colorado at RFK, and United is in crisis. Lose to both Colorado and Waterhouse, and we will be metaphorically plumbing the depths of our 2013 emotional despair. Now's the time. Let's right the ship.
What's your take? How panicked are you right now for D.C. United? What will it take to right the ship?