On a brisk Tuesday morning, D.C. United returned to the practice field in hopes of righting all the wrongs from the weekend's thorough defeat at the hands of their Atlantic Cup rivals, the New York Red Bulls. Outplayed for 90 minutes, United didn't look capable of earning any sort of result after Bradley Wright-Phillips opener in the 25th minute, and Chris Pontius' late penalty miss summed up United's day perfectly.
While the time to start looking forward to the visit from the LA Galaxy is nigh, United captain Bobby Boswell took time after practice to break down what he saw wrong with the team's performance on Sunday. While problems persisted all over the field, Boswell focused in on what went wrong defensively, and how he thought the back five could improve on their less than stellar performance.
"You have to learn from [the loss]," Boswell told reporters after practice. "We watched the video today, and now we'll work on some things to get ready for the MLS Cup Champs [LA Galaxy]. When you win a game, you can't live in that moment for too long, and if you lose one, you got to learn from it. Sometimes losses tell you more about yourself than wins. You got to use [the loss] the right way, and if we do that, we will be alright."
The first big spot of bother for United's back line was the goal conceded to Wright-Phillips halfway through the first half. A long ball from midfield from Dax McCarty saw Steve Birnbaum and Boswell spaced too far apart, which allowed the 2014 Golden Boot winner to gather the ball, and then lash a shot home for the game winning goal. United couldn't recover from that, but Boswell felt that the situation was borne out of several events occurring at once, rather than just one mistake from an individual.
"We talked out the first goal on Sunday," Boswell said. "[Birnbaum and I] acknowledged, and Bill [Hamid] included, we all could have done something differently. It's when you have a series of mistakes like that that usually leads to a goal, it's not always just one guy. We take accountability for it, and that's really all you want. You want honest defending and guys that hold themselves accountable."
Manager Ben Olsen saw something similar from his perspective on the sideline, and thought the issue started with Boswell and Birnbaum and Hamid not being on the same page.
"I think it the first goal was soft," Olsen said on Tuesday. "It was a little bit of the old fly ball, the 'you got it, I got it'. A little communication solves that."
Boswell noted that while the communication was far from ideal on the first goal, that time spent in the film room and the practice field are ways to fix the issues, and that United had the kind of set up and experience that would help United bounce back quickly.
"We are watching video of every game. Goals are sometimes obvious indicators to the outside [media and fans]," Boswell said. "But there are little things that we watch all the time and try to work on. Whether its communication or positioning, there is room for improvement. Whether we give up four or five goals in a game or we keep a shutout, there's still room for improvement. It never stops. Obviously we want to be on the end of more zero games than not, but goals are going to happen for one reason or another. And it's correcting it to make sure it doesn't happen again the same way."
Wright-Phillips goal was hardly the only hiccup from the Black-and-Red. United's inability to retain possession against New York's three man midfield. Veteran midfielder Davy Arnaud's critical turnover in United's end in the second half led directly to Lloyd Sam's goal, which essentially ended the match as a contest. But on the other end of the field, the inability to hold on to the ball to create chances meant that United's looks at goals were few and far between.
Knowing that teams will endure off days that they must overcome goes a long way in determining who succeeds in the league however.
"I thought they took care of the ball better than we did. We knew that when we watched video, we saw how we turned the ball over in bad spots," said Boswell. "We had some chances we didn't finish and they had some chances they did, and that's the way soccer goes. You're going to have good days and bad days, and it's the teams that can win the in between ones that usually make the playoffs, and the teams that don't are watching at the end of the year."