For the second week in a row, D.C. United went on the road, took a first half lead against their opponent, and failed to walk away with three points. Last week, United held on for a point in a 1-1 draw against the Montreal Impact. This week, the wheels fell off late for United, as New York City FC scored three times in the last 10 minutes to win 3-2 against the Black-and-Red.
For a team clinging to the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, taking the lead at Yankee Stadium in the first half was just what United needed. For a team clinging to the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, the capitulation in the game’s final 10 minutes was the complete opposite of what United needed.
"That one hurts. There’s games in the season that hurt. They hurt for a day or two, and then you move on," United head coach Ben Olsen said in his post game press conference.
Lloyd Sam finished off a sweeping move for United near the end of the first half, notching his first goal for his new club. And though there were several danger moment for NYC in the second, it generally seemed that United were on course to see the game out.
But then, Luke Mishu - filling in for Taylor Kemp at left back - tried a back pass from the attacking half. David Villa, the league’s leading scorer, pounced on the pass, and finished with aplomb in the 80th minute to level the scores. And just like that, the tide of the game turned.
"The momentum shift would be the best explanation. We did pretty well to manage the game," Nick DeLeon told B&RU after the game. "A couple opportunities here and there to put the game away. Regardless, when they got that first goal, it was a big momentum swing for them."
That goal from Villa quickly gave way to Frank Lampard’s goal five minutes later. It wouldn’t stand as the winner, as Lamar Neagle headed home from a corner in stoppage time. But there was still time for Lampard to score the winner in the 93rd minute, condemning United to their first loss since July.
Just when it seemed like United were finally on course to win back to back games for the first time this season, it was all gone in an instant.
"The numbers they’re throwing at you at that point, the chances they’re taking, it’s tough to deal with. In a lot of ways, the only way to deal with it is to go punish them at the other end," Olsen added. "We could have did that earlier in the game. Could have did that in the second half. But some of the execution wasn’t there."
There were two especially gilt-edged chances that might have changed the outcome of the game with United already ahead. First Patrick Mullins, less than a week removed from scoring three goals against the Chicago Fire, couldn’t put away a chance in first half stoppage time with just keeper Josh Saunders to beat.
And then in the second half, Sam had a chance to score his second on the game. Luciano Acosta fed the ball out wide to Patrick Nyarko, who then laid the ball back through the box. It found Sam all alone at the far post, but the English winger clipped it wide, with Saunders not able to get into position to make a save.
Those came back to bite United in the rear end, when NYC’s two most productive scorers put United to the sword late on. And even though Neagle seemed to salvage the point late on with his header from Julian Buescher’s corner, it was all for naught by the time the final whistle went.
"It’s that late in the game, you think you score an equalizer and that’s it," Neagle said after the game.
"It’s one of those things we need to get rid of before the playoffs come around. If we’re getting into the playoffs, that’s something that’s going to see us get through, is seeing games through," said Neagle. "90 minutes, when we have a lead, especially when we’re away. We need as many points as we can get, especially against East Coast teams. It’s another unfortunate loss for us."