A month is a long time in the soccer world, but what occurred back in March in New York City is still fresh on the minds of D.C. United. In the second game of the season, United went to the Big Apple hoping for their first win of the season, but instead got sent home with a 4-0 thrashing at the hands of New York City FC.
The Black-and-Red would go on to lose their next game, a 2-0 defeat at home to Columbus Crew SC, before the international break, which was followed up by last week’s 2-1 win over the Philadelphia Union.
So while there has been plenty going on since that March 12th defeat, the loss, in particular how poorly United played on the day, is still fresh on the minds of players and coaches.
“Very fresh. It’s a tough game, a tough team, but we were hurt from that game,” winger Patrick Nyarko told B&RU earlier this week. “And are looking forward to bounce back.”
In the game last month, United were punched in the mouth early on, with Rodney Wallace netting the opener against his former team. Lloyd Sam thought he had an equalizer several minutes later, but he was ruled offside in turning in a shot from close range.
From there, it all fell apart for D.C. David Villa, particularly adept at scoring against the Black-and-Red, netted twice, while new signing Maxi Moralez was responsible for the other goal. All in all, a game that United might wish they could forget. But one that was mentioned this week, ahead of City’s only visit to RFK Stadium this year.
“[The 4-0 loss] has been mentioned to the group,” United head coach Ben Olsen said earlier this week. “It’s pretty fresh in our minds what happened there. They have some great individuals, and they are playing well, so it will be a tough task. It’s certainly a team we can win against at home.”
And after last week, Olsen and company will finally have a chance to build upon a performance that not only ended in a win, but with goals as well. After going without a goal the first three games of the season, much less a win, United finally lit up the scoreboard last week, with Jose Ortiz netting in his first MLS start, and Luciano Acosta scoring from the penalty spot.
The second half left much to be desired, as the Union mounted a comeback, thanks to a goal from CJ Sapong. But United did just enough to hold on, and now look to build off of the result, even if aspects of the performance need improvements.
“[A victory] helps. Still a lot of work to do,” said Olsen. “The guys understand that. The staff certainly understands that.”
“I thought we got complacent. It was a good first half, and then I thought we left some of little things that we did well in the first half go,” added Olsen. “And that’s when they started creeping back into the game.”
United allowed 12 shots in the second half against the Union, while at the same time, almost going 60 minutes in between shots for themselves. Not exactly the recipe for winning games in MLS, even though it ended well against Philadelphia.
“The resiliency was there, but our performance still has a little bit to go,” said Nyarko. “Our decision-making, and how to see out games. We put a lot of pressure on ourselves, and they were close a couple of times to coming back.”
“Down the stretch, it was difficult to hold them off,” Olsen told reporters on Tuesday. “We defended the box much better than we have all year, and we looked after each other and bailed each other out when things didn’t go right. That’s a quality we’ve had in the past, and it’s good to see we still have that.”
While Philadelphia came into last weekend’s game also looking for their first win of the season, New York City won’t be short of confidence. They dropped their season opener, a 1-0 defeat at Orlando City, but bounced back with the win over United. Since then, they’ve picked up four points from two games, both at home, in a draw with the Montreal Impact, and a win over the San Jose Earthquakes.
Two wins in a row is now the goal for United, especially with a three game road trip on the horizon. But against a City team that made them look foolish a month ago, it won’t be an easy task.
“We’re building off the win, and trying to put back to back [wins] together. That’s what playoff teams do in this league,” Olsen said. “They’re able to put together good streaks and not bad streaks. This is our first chance to get two in a row.”
And though there are still ways to improve the performance from last week, Nyarko said that getting the goals and the win out of the way against Union was definitely a weight off of the shoulders of the team after a typical United slow start to the season.
“We tried to keep level headed,” Nyarko said of the team’s lack of goals through three games. “But three games into the season, having not scored, not having a win, it weighs on your mind. To get that out of there, especially early, was very important, and set us up for the rest of the day.”