The outlook for D.C. United this week was not exactly a bright one. The Black-and-Red recently wrapped up a three game home streak which presented them an opportunity to work themselves up the standings in the Eastern Conference. Instead, three losses and zero goals ensued, and United faced a two games on opposite sides of the continent within three days.
But instead of feeling sorry for themselves, United found a way to get all three points on Saturday, beating the Vancouver Whitecaps 1-0 with a goal from the penalty spot in the second half from Lamar Neagle.
United had to survive some late drama, when Sorin Stoica awarded the ‘Caps a penalty in stoppage time, a minute after Bill Hamid and Brek Shea collided, with both players looking to claim a free kick served in the box.
“What drama?” United head coach Ben Olsen slyly said after the game, which ended his team’s three game losing streak.
The incident occurred when Shea went up to win a header from a free kick. Shea beat Hamid to the ball, but his effort bounced off of the bar as Hamid crashed into Shea. Nothing was immediately called, United cleared the ball, and Shea was down in front of goal.
But while Shea was being attended to, Stoica consulted with his assistant on that side of the field - and a minute or so after the collision occurred - pointed to the spot, giving Vancouver a chance to earn a point late on in the game.
“I'm not sure [what happened], you have to ask the referee,” Hamid told reporters after the game.
But, with a chance to level the score, Cristian Techera hit the woodwork, the fourth time over the course of 90 minutes that Vancouver hit a post or bar. That was essentially the end of the game, giving United their first points and goal in nearly a month.
Hamid, for his part, had made several crucial saves. That might have had something to do with Techera not being able to guide his shot on target from 12 yards out.
“Bill played great, and when you have a goalkeeper with that type of presence, sometimes the post is your friend as well,” Olsen said after the game.
And while it wasn’t exactly a performance that was easy on eyes, or dominating from minute one to 90, it was just what United needed to get out of their recent funk.
“Gutsy stuff from our group. They were good, they put together quite a few shots, and they were dangerous throughout the game,” added Olsen. “And we hung on for three points. Sometimes that’s what you have ts o do in MLS to win on the road. It’s never going to be easy to stop the losing streak that we’ve been on.”
And with two more games this week, United might have positioned themselves to build a bit of momentum, especially considering that all hands might be needed on deck to get through the next two games.
“The whole team showed up today and worked, and when you do that, you give yourself a chance to win,” Taylor Kemp told B&RU after the game. “It’s a good start to a pretty tough week coming up.”
It looked like, after a couple of early chances from Kofi Opare and Luciano Acosta, that United might not be able to put the ball in the back of the net once again, the fourth game in a row. That changed though, when 15 minutes into the second half, Jose Ortiz was adjudged to have been fouled in the box, giving United a penalty.
After a quick discussion between Neagle and Acosta over who would get to take the shot, Neagle expertly dispatched his effort into the top corner. It was his first goal of the 2017 season, United’s first goal in the month of May, and first goal in 366 minutes of action.
“We haven’t scored a goal in a while. Everyone is itching to get a goal,” Neagle told B&RU about the discussion between himself and Acosta. “It’s what you want, guys wanting to take it.”
And after the recent stumble, everything about Saturday’s win - the goal, the ability to overcome late adversity, riding out the pressure from the Whitecaps over the course of the game - might help steer United’s season back in the right direction.
“Belief is always shaken when you go through a stretch like that, and it’s all very difficult,” said Olsen. “I’m proud of the guys, and how they held on. To get three points, going all the way across the country, I don’t care how you do it. It’s difficult. It’s never that pretty.”
In contrast to United’s recent three game losing streak at home, they have picked up seven points from their last three away games. Is that something the team recognizes?
“Apparently we’re better on the road,” said Kemp.