D.C. United came into this three game home stand, off their best stretch of the season, with a serious chance to move up the standings in the Eastern Conference. A loss to the New York Red Bulls was the lone loss in their previous five games, with three wins to go with a draw in the other four games, all in which United scored at least two goals. Thus, the assumption was that United, after a slow start to the season, could take care of under-performing competition at home.
That hasn’t been the case though, and on Saturday night, United equaled their worst ever home loss, falling 4-0 to the Philadelphia Union, with Luciano Acosta getting a straight red card in the second half. The last time United had lost by four goals at home was back in April 2011, in Ben Olsen’s first full year as head coach of United. That loss though was to the New York Red Bulls, who had Thierry Henry pulling the strings for United’s rivals.
The Union are don’t exactly have a Henry-like engine in their team, and only picked up their first win of 2017 last weekend. But against the Black-and-Red on Saturday night, the Union took advantage of the Acosta red card, scoring three times against 10-man United, after Haris Medunjanin have given Philadelphia a first half lead.
Olsen didn’t think that the first half was that bad, despite the deficit United faced. But then, after Acosta was visibly frustrated at not earning a foul, the Argentine lunged in on Ilsinho, earning his marching orders.
“The red card changes the game. You know what happens then,” Olsen said after the game.
“I don’t have many issues with the red card itself,” added Olsen. “I did think [referee Chris Penso] had a poor night. It’s a crap shoot of how these guys are going to ref the game. It’s not on the referee tonight, but I don’t think he was good.”
United were especially frustrated early in the second half, when several calls went against them. Acosta wasn’t the only one to voice his concerns with how Penso called the game, even if he was the only one to earn a red card.
“Stuff builds throughout the game, and then things happen. Because referees sometimes don’t understand the game,” said Olsen. “I didn’t think he had a pulse of the game. He was very inconsistent, and that can lead to frustration. That’s not an excuse for Lucho to whack a guy.”
From there, the Union made their numerical advantage count. Oguchi Onyewu out-jumped Bobby Boswell for the second half, Fafa Picault scored his first MLS goal for the third, and Fabian Herbers finished off the misery by scoring a wonderful goal in the 88th minute.
But, the more pressing issue now for United is their recent stumbles at home. After the loss to the Union, United have a home record of just 2W-1D-3L. For a team that generally doesn’t do well on the road, this isn’t the recipe for United to get back to the playoffs, a place they have found themselves at the end of the last three seasons.
“We got to look at ourselves in the mirror now,” left back Taylor Kemp told reporters after the game. “That’s two losses at home, got shut out both times. We got to get back to the drawing board, figure out how we can score some goals, and keep them out at our end.”
What might be most disconcerting is the lack of goals for United. United scored in nine straight home games to end the 2016 season. They were scoring for fun back then, with multiple goals in every game to end the campaign, after a mid-season shake up that brought in Lloyd Sam and Patrick Mullins.
But now, United have just four goals in six home games. And those four goals came in just two halves. The lack of consistency in front of goal is ailing them, and according to Kemp, it’s on the whole team to turn that around.
“That’s concerning for sure,” Kemp said about his team’s lack of goals in 2017. “Some of it is we’ve had a rotating cast up there. But that still shouldn’t happen at the magnitude that it is. We have to find a way, and it’s not just on our forwards. We have to create better chances through better possession, and get them in better spots. It’s a team-wide problem.”
“It’s just not clicking right now,” midfielder Ian Harkes told B&RU. “That happens. We just got to keep pounding away, keep going. We have to stay positive, stay together.”
Still, while the team may need to do some soul searching in the team’s final season at RFK Stadium, there is still plenty of games remaining. Twenty-four games remain on United’s schedule, eleven of which are at home. So while there are some questions about the team’s ability to score goals at one end, and prevent them at the other, it’s not quite panic time yet for the Black-and-Red.
“I’m not concerned. We have three or four guys out. We’ve got a good portion of the season left,” said Olsen in his press conference. “We have a good group, we have to play better, we have to coach better. I’ll let you know when it’s panic time, we’re very far away from that.”
“We got a veteran group here, guys that have been through this league before, and know the ups and downs,” added Steve Birnbaum, who played at right back and center back in his first game back from a concussion. “We want to take care of business at home. We have to be better on both sides of the ball execution wise.”