Saturday night's game against the Houston Dynamo presented D.C. United with another opportunity to protect a second half lead at home. A week after blowing a two goal in the second half against the New York Red Bulls, United found themselves ahead 1-0 at the break against Houston, a team they defeated twice in 2014.
A bulk of D.C. United's successful 2014 MLS campaign was built on the back of protecting halftime leads. In rebounding from the worst MLS season to date in 2013, the Black and Red built 15 first half leads last year, and won 14 of them, only dropping two points in a late draw at the Columbus Crew in April.
This season though, in back to back games in April, United has found ways to let two halftime leads slip away, both at home at RFK Stadium. The latest transgression saw United fail to regain the top spot in the Eastern Conference in the 1-1 draw with the Dynamo.
"Two straight games where we had leads in the second half and didn't get three points," Chris Rolfe told reporters after the game. "It's unacceptable for this group. We're disappointed with that, but we'll fix it, we'll change it."
Rolfe gave the United the lead after a mostly drab first half with a fantastically placed free kick in the 36th minute. But much like the New York game last weekend, United couldn't fina a way to go home with all three points, as Ricardo Clark equalized for the Dynamo in the second half.
Known United tormentor Will Bruin entered the game at halftime, and made a nuisance of himself amongst the back line. Bruin won the header from a Brad Davis cross that forced Andrew Dykstra into a sprawling save, and Clark was on hand unmarked to slot home for the equalizer.
"We feel like these last two games have been losses. I feel like we think we should have five wins," DCU captain Bobby Boswell told reporters after the game. "I hope that doesn't come back later down the line. Points are at a premium in this league, and it doesn't matter how you get them. Just matters that you got them."
In addition to the now worrying trend of conceding half time leads -- United is winless in the two games they have held the halftime lead -- the team has developed a recent trend of not being able to finish from the run of play. While scoring four goals in the past three games, United has found the back of the net just once from open play, a trend that will cause issues going forward if it continues.
Perry Kitchen's second goal last week against the New York Red Bulls is the lone open play goal in that run. The other three goals came via set pieces -- two direct free kick goals from Luis Silva and Rolfe, and Kitchen's header from a corner.
While Rolfe's free kick was expertly dispatched into the upper corner of the goal, United manager Ben Olsen noted that his side has struggled of late to carve out the opportunities that lead to games being won.
"We need that [Rolfe goal], because we haven't been that clinical out of the run of play with some of our breaks," he said in the post game press conference. "That part needs to get better. But we always talk about set piece goals. If you can nick them every other game, you're in good shape in this league. That is a credit to the guys."
Keeper Bill Hamid was noticeably absent as United took the field last night, missing the game due to a thigh contusion. He originally picked up the injury last week during the game versus the Metros, and it continued to bother him while in San Antonio with the US national team. Olsen decided to not risk Hamid last night, and it isn't believed that his injury will cause a long term absence.
In his place, Dysktra came in for his first MLS start since rupturing his Achilles last year in a friendly game against Fulham. Dykstra's last outing, the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal against Alajuelense, went disastrously for the former Chicago keeper, as United got trounced 5-2 in Costa Rica. Against Houston, the story was completely different.
"Extremely happy for [Dykstra]. He's been excited to get back out there," Olsen said of his number two keeper. "We set him up to fail [against Alajuelense]. Shows his character to come out tonight and have a very good performance."
But while Dysktra did enough to give his side an opportunity to win, it just wasn't in the cards on the night against Houston.
"Certainly disappointed in not getting all three. Just seems like we're not taking those chances to kill off teams," said Olsen.