D.C. United didn’t have the best of days on the field on Sunday in their final MLS regular season game. Fielding a weakened side, United struggled defensively against Orlando City SC, eventually falling 4-2 to end a four game winning streak. While the loss could have forced United into a road game for the knockout round this week, the Montreal Impact’s 3-0 loss to the New England Revolution means that United will host the Impact in the playoffs.
First half substitute Alvaro Saborio and Kennedy Igboananike scored on either side of the half for the Black-and-Red, who ran their streak of multiple goals scored to 9 games, tying a team record. But goals from Kevin Molino, Kaka, Cristian Higuita and Julio Baptista meant that United head to the playoffs with a loss.
Head coach Ben Olsen made wholesale changes to the team that beat New York City FC 3-1 last weekend. Rob Vincent was the only holdover, with 10 players coming in, including the return of Sean Franklin and Kofi Opare from injury layoffs. Alhaji Kamara was handed his second start of the season, in his first game since picking up a hamstring injury in August. Igboananike was also given the start, while Collin Martin started his first MLS game in two years.
United had two chances early from set pieces, but when no danger arose from either, Orlando quickly took over proceedings. The first moment of danger came in the 10th minute, as a give and go between Matias Perez Garcia and Molino opened up Matias Perez for a shot in the box. His shot stung the hands of keeper Travis Worra, and then the rebound was headed wide by Molino.
Three minutes later, Orlando were ahead through Molino. A ball over the top from Kaka was collected by right back Rafael Ramos, who beat the offside trap. Collecting the ball, Ramos rolled a pass into the middle of the box, allowing the onrushing Molino to easily tap in to give the Lions the lead in the 13th minute.
It was still one-way traffic for Orlando when Kaka doubled their advantage in the 21st minute. Kaka on a run down the left hand side beat Franklin with speed, getting around the corner and making his way towards goal. Worra came out to challenge Kaka, but the Brazilian chipped a right footed shot past Worra across goal and in for the 2-0 lead.
Julian Buescher’s free kick was deflected in the middle of the box, but with the net gaping there was no second touch from United to find an opener. Ramos then got into the box in the 30th minute for Orlando, but his shot after cutting back towards the middle was into the side netting.
Molino nearly made it three for the Lions in the 33rd minute, as he was the quickest to react to Carlos Rivas’ early cross into the box. Molino was at full stretch with a diving header, but could only bounce his effort wide of the goal.
Saborio came on for Kamara in the 40th minute, as the striker seemed to re-injure his right hamstring in a collision with Higuita. And three minutes after coming on, Saborio had United back in the game. Seb Hines tried to play a pass back to his keeper, Joe Bendik, but Buescher ran on to intercept the woefully under-hit ball. Buescher got to the spot before Bendik and kept his head, sliding a pass over to Saborio, who had an easy finish for his sixth goal on the season.
Lamar Neagle had the ball in the back of the net in stoppage time, but he was adjudged to have been offside on Igboananike’s wayward shot. Replays seemed to indicate that this call may have been incorrect, but Orlando maintained their lead heading into the locker room.
United’s defensive struggles reappeared early in the second half, as several missed chances at clearances resulted in a goal for Higuita in the 50th minute. Having several cracks at escaping trouble, United could not clear the ball out of their own box, allowing Kaka to find Higuita at the top of the box. Higuita’s first touch took him into the box, and with no one closing him down, he fired a shot to the far post for the 3-1 lead.
Molino then hit the post in the 56th minute, as he collected a pass from Kaka, and skipped past a challenge by Opare in the box. Molino’s shot to the far post got past Worra, but it hit the woodwork and United were able to clear away the danger.
Then a long ball up from the back got past Opare and Jalen Robinson, allowing Rivas to get in on goal all alone. Worra was out of his box quickly to save their blushes, though, keeping United’s slim hopes of a result alive.
And those hopes were bolstered in the 78th minute, as Igboananike scored his first goal for United since joining the club in July. As United kept a chance alive down the left, Buescher made his way into the box despite the presence of four Orlando defenders. Igboananike’s first touch on Buescher’s pass wasn’t the greatest, but it set up the forward to smash a vicious shot in at the near post, beating Bendik from close range.
Baptista, a second half substitute, hit the outside netting in the 85th minute, before Saborio fired over after Luke Mishu picked the striker out with a pass in from the right hand flank.
In the 89th minute, Baptista made sure of the result with his 6th goal on the season. Higuita led a counter attack down the right side, with Orlando having the advantage in numbers. Baptista was the recipient of Higuita’s pass, and the shot from the Brazilian clipped Marcelo Sarvas before skipping past Worra.
United finish the season with 46 points from 34 games, with a record of 11-10-13. As the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference they will host the Montreal Impact in the knockout round at RFK Stadium, either on Wednesday or Thursday.