Three points from two road games on opposite sides of the continent is usually a good haul for an MLS side. And indeed, D.C. United will be pleased to take those points, and head back to RFK Stadium for their third game this week. But after making out like bandits in a 1-0 win over the Vancouver Whitecaps on Saturday, United were on the short end of the stick against Orlando City, losing 2-0 in front of 24,112 at Orlando City Stadium.
On Saturday, the Black-and-Red survived the ‘Caps hitting the woodwork four different times, and won courtesy of a penalty that shouldn’t have been given. Against the Lions, United actually created more than enough chances to win the game, but as the story goes, couldn’t find the back of the net while allowing two goals in the second half.
So even though the three points are a plus, there was a feeling that it could have been a bit more for the team sitting in 10th place in the Eastern Conference.
“You gotta stick [your chances],” United head coach Ben Olsen said after the game. “We gotta score some goals. We gotta take pressure off of our defense. There’s chances there.”
For United on Wednesday, the best chances of the game presented themselves in the second half. First, Julian Buescher, in his first appearance since the opening game of the season, was all alone at the far post, with just keeper Joe Bendik to beat. Instead of at least testing the Lions’ keeper though, Buescher blasted a shot well over from just about 10 yards out.
Orlando City would then take the lead through a set piece goal, with Cyle Larin beating Steve Birnbaum to a free kick, heading home what would turn out to be the game winning goal.
But before Giles Barnes added the insurance goal through a gaffe by Bill Hamid, a poor back pass from OCSC center back Jose Aja gifted United a golden opportunity for an equalizer. Lamar Neagle was able to get around Bendik after intercepting the pass from Aja, but had a shot blocked by Jonathan Spector.
It seemed certain that Le Toux would head in the rebound that seemed to float in the air forever, but Bendik recovered to knock the ball away just in time. Olsen could be seen on the sideline after that, trying in vain to pull his hair out.
“Big disappointment from us tonight,” Le Toux told B&RU after the game, noting the team’s missed opportunities. “We created more opportunities to score than any other away game this year. Unfortunately, we didn’t finish our chances.”
That might be a sign of some improvement, though, as United face the daunting task of trying to get points at home in their third game in eight days. Especially considering how much their performance improved over the course of just a couple of days.
“We take three points away from two road games. We took a step forward in certain areas, getting guys back, building our depth,” said Olsen. “We’re going to need everyone to play at a high level. Most teams would take three points from two road games, now we have to try to take care of a home game.”
Despite the chances that United created against Orlando, it was one moment in the game that eventually cost them at least a point. The Lions controlled possession and territory for most of the night, but United had successfully kept OCSC from creating much to trouble Hamid.
Then, Buescher was called for a foul on Barnes on the side of the box. Larin out-muscled Birnbaum and won a header on the doorstep, nodding home his eighth goal of the season. Just like that, United had to come from behind to get a result from the game, something that proved to be too difficult on the night.
“Every game on the road, it comes down to those couple of critical moments,” midfielder Jared Jeffrey told B&RU in the locker room after the game. “We give up a goal on the set piece, and that hurts a lot, and we don’t convert at the other end.”
“It’s time to man up,” Jeffrey added. “We have to keep grinding, keep going. We’ve been playing tough the last couple of games, and we need to keep that going.”
Of course, now United head to a stadium where they have lost their last three games. No, not Red Bull Arena. Not Talen Energy Stadium either. It’s RFK Stadium, where couldn’t even score a goal during their most recent homestand.
If United - who currently have just 14 points from their first 13 games - have any hopes of sneaking into the playoffs this year, they’ll have to start taking all the points available at home. Of course, that won’t exactly be easy as they finish this brutal stretch of games.
“The next one is going to be tougher” Olsen said about the game against the LA Galaxy this weekend, in terms of his players’ energy levels. “And we’re going to have to change some bodies up. We’ve planned this out to hopefully succeed against LA.”