There are two ways to look at the last three home games for D.C. United. In games against Orlando City, the Philadelphia Union, and the Chicago Fire, the Black-and-Red have picked up a maximum nine points. Those results have seen United keep hold of their spot atop the Eastern Conference, and even put some room between them and their competitors.
At the same time though, United has conceded the opening goals in all three of those games. Against Orlando, Cyle Larin netted in the 11th minute. Sebastian Le Toux opened up the scoring for the Union in the 11th, before David Accam scored in the 28th minute on Wednesday night.
"We got to start putting together better performances as a whole. The tale of two halves stuff is getting old," said United manager Ben Olsen after the 3-1 win over the Fire. "We've gotten away with it the last two games. You aren't always going to get away with it, but we have been."
What he's alluding to is United's insistence over the course of those three games in starting slow. In fact, throw in the three roads games sandwiched by the three home games, and United has conceded the first goal in six straight games. While they have managed the three wins, such a trend is not conducive to winning games in MLS.
"It's been happening a lot, and it's been addressed," Olsen added. "The mentality was good going into the game, warm ups were sharp and solid, it was just missing some quality and energy in the first half."
In all, United have won four games in which they have conceded first this season. In addition to the three game run at home, D.C. also came from behind in a 2-1 road victory over the Vancouver Whitecaps back in April. In two of those games, United equalized in the first half. In the other two, the Fire game included, the equalizer and winner haven't come until the second half.
While the trend of conceding first isn't a bright spot, the ability to battle back, and not have to settle for ties, but pick up wins as well, is a point of pride among this group.
"From a realist standpoint, yeah we don't to give up the early goal. You play with fire in that regard," United captain Bobby Boswell told B&RU after the Fire win. "In the same token, it takes a group of guys to fight back and find the win. There's positives and there's negatives. Obviously we don't want to give up the first goal. Statistics, over time, will tell you that the team that scores the first goal has better results. But we're finding ways to win games, and you can't be upset with that."
Last weekend, in the win over the Union, many of the quotes from Olsen and players read the same. Yes it's worrying, but at least the results are going United's way. The win against Philly was more a labor, with the winner not coming until the 85th minute, thanks to a Chris Rolfe penalty.
But United fell into that same trap again on Wednesday night. Chicago were denied the opener in the 26th minute thanks to Andrew Dykstra's save of Jeff Larentowicz's penalty, but were ahead minutes later as Accam dispatched Quincy Amarikwa's cross home.
Only the introduction of Fabian Espindola at half changed the course of the game. After he created a couple of chances in the first 15 minutes of the second half, Espindola spent the second 15 minutes engineering three goals for United, enough to see them increase their lead atop the Eastern Conference.
"That's a character thing. We don't shut down when we get scored on first," United midfielder Nick DeLeon told B&RU after the Union game. "Getting scored on first means that we are starting slow, which we do have to adjust. But if we can fix that, and start well, like how we play the rest of the game, we should be fine. But coming back shows character."
"Bad starts. It's part of it," Olsen said after the Philadelphia game when asked about his team's penchant for coming from behind. "There's a lot of courage in that group. They're not shy of challenges. They will more times than not rise to the occasion, but we'd like to not have to come from behind. We would like to put our stamp on the game from the [first] whistle."
In all, United has conceded first in eight games this season. They've done well enough to pick up 13 points in those games, with four wins and a draw. But as Olsen sees it, he'd rather not have to worry about having such strong second halves to make up for the slow first halves, which have seen United leak goal after goal.
"It's been tough for the guys. It's not always going to look great. But I give them credit, they continue to find ways to get results," Olsen added. "That's toughest thing to do in this league. That group did it tonight again, but I'm still a little bit disappointed with the overall picture of the last two games. It's great to get the six points, but we have to sort it out where we're playing 90 minutes, like we have been in the second half."