In a scene all too familiar during the 2015 season, D.C. United put themselves in a bind early on during Saturday's game against Toronto FC. It was a fortunate deflection from Marky Delgado on Jozy Altidore's cross, but the ball fell right to the Reds' Sebastian Giovinco, who easily netted in the first minute.
That was all that Toronto would need against a misfiring United side.
And for the third time in nine games this season - 7 in MLS, 2 in CONCACAF Champions League - United gave up a goal in the first 15 minutes of a game. Unsurprisingly, they've ended up with losses in two of those games.
"It's not the way you want to start a game against a well organized team, that was prepared to come in here, sit back, and defend at 0-0," United manager Ben Olsen said after the game. "And now it's 1-0, and you have to chase the game for 90 minutes."
It was a trend that at times last year, United were seemingly able to overcome. Early goals conceded, especially at RFK, somehow turned into wins. There were enough goals to mask that problem. But aside from Julian Buescher's late equalizer in the second leg of the Champions League quarterfinals, United have been unable to find a way back after conceding early.
"It's an alarming trend that has continued a few times this year. I'll take blame for that. That's not something we don't know about. It's something we discuss," Olsen added. "We have to get better in that aspect. Everything you do all week now changes because of one minute."
The biggest issue for United after conceding the goal was their performance in front of goal. The assumption was that Toronto would come into the game looking to defend, looking for opportunities to hit on the counter. After the early go, it was a foregone conclusion that Toronto would look to keep their defensive shape, and try to hold on to their lead.
Inefficiency in front of goal from United helped ensure the game would remain with just the one goal. With 18 shots, United only had three on target, none of which came after the 47th minute. That seemed to make last week's 4-0 romp over the Vancouver Whitecaps the outlier in a season where United have already been shutout four times, almost half of their games.
"We knew they were going to sit back, and we knew we were going to have most of the ball. We had good possession, but we got to get sharper in the final third," right back Sean Franklin told B&RU. "We had a lot of crosses, but we have to have more quality service. We have to be more of a threat in front of goal."
"Just a little uncomfortable in front of goal. Usually that'll happen to a forward or an outside mid, a guy at a time," said Chris Rolfe. "But it seems like it's a majority of our guys right now. We just got to keep plugging away, and the goals will start coming."
There was hope that with an unchanged side from last week's win, there would be a continuity in United's performance. Yes, Vancouver was a weakened side with injuries and suspensions, but there was plenty that United could have continued to build upon against Toronto.
Instead, it was a regression, a showing of sorts that United hoped to be beyond. Which has left Olsen contemplating changes that might need to be made to give this team the boost they need to get themselves back into contention in the Eastern Conference.
"There's still some tinkering I need to do to figure out exactly what makes us at our best. That's part of the season. That's part of the journey over the course of the year. Still excited [in this team], but disappointed in the loss, at home in particular."