The third game of four in D.C. United's July long road trip presented the team with a great chance to pick up a rare win on the road. Up against a Columbus Crew SC side that has just three wins on the season, United could have jumped up over the New England Revolution for the 6th and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
Instead, despite a fair showing from the Black-and-Red, United had to settle for a point against the Crew, with Fabian Espindola scoring late to negate Ola Kamara's goal earlier in the second half.
For United, it was an improved performance over the previous week’s debacle against the Philadelphia Union, but there was still a feeling that points were left on the table in Ohio.
"We are talking a little bit more about pushing [the game], and making sure we also understand we can get three points on the road," United manager Ben Olsen told reporters after the team’s practice on Tuesday. "One point is good, especially when you come from behind, but we’d like to get three points this weekend."
This weekend, United finish off their four-game road trip with a journey north to take on Toronto FC. More specifically, a Toronto team that gave up a game-winning goal to a nine-man San Jose Earthquakes side last Saturday. In other words, another team that United has the potential to take advantage of, provided they can manage to string good performances together rather than produce them from time to time.
A win in Canada would also mean that United finished this road trip with five points from four outings. That's not exactly world-beating, but it would constitute a success for Olsen, especially considering how bleak things looked during the 90 minutes against the Philadelphia Union.
"I think so," said Olsen when asked if a win against TFC would mean a successful July on the road. "That would be the goal, looking at this a month ago. So we’re on target, but you got to get the job [done]. And that’s by pushing ourselves, and evolving from the performance this weekend."
The performance against Columbus might have been an improvement from the Union game, but leaving points on the table, like United felt they did on Saturday, won’t get it done in the long run for the team that is currently on the outside looking in for the MLS playoffs.
"That was a positive point in Columbus. But we aren’t satisfied with that," center back Steve Birnbaum said on Tuesday. "We need to start getting three points, and moving up in the standings. It’s a positive step, but we aren’t happy with it."
"Overall, it was one of our better performances at both ends, in the last month. It’s something to build off," Olsen added. "Again, the message is about building. We can’t have an okay performance and not build at this point of the season, and where we’re at in the table. We have to get better, and we have to push ourselves."
One of the biggest talking points from Saturday night’s game was the incident between Harrison Afful and Marcelo Sarvas. Afful, with the Crew up 1-0, was sent off for sliding into Marcelo, who stepped on Afful at the conclusion of the tackle. Afful was sent off with a straight red, and United eventually equalized late in the game to split the points.
On Monday, Afful had his red card taken away, meaning he is eligible to play in the Crew's next game. For Marcelo’s participation, Olsen didn’t expect any suspension to be handed down to the midfielder.
"I think it was the right call," Olsen said of Afful’s red card being rescinded. "I don’t think there will be anything for Marcelo either. It’s grown men out there, and we’re all fighting for points. It gets heated, but I didn’t think either action needed any type of suspension."
The game also saw United's most recent addition, Lloyd Sam, debut for the club. The former New York Red Bulls winger was an unused substitute against the Union, before he had even practiced with D.C. But with a week of training under his belt, combined with Lamar Neagle's absence and Patrick Nyarko just coming back from a concussion, Sam went the full 90 minutes on the right wing.
For a guy who is just getting acquainted with his new teammates, he felt right at home on the wing for United.
"Getting on the field felt good. I think it went well for myself and the team. We had the better chances of the game, and we could have taken three [points], but we’ll take one on the road. Myself, it didn’t feel like my first game for the team. I felt like I fit in well on the right side."
"I feel like they know me pretty well, from playing against this team a lot of times. After a week of training, that’s all it took really."