D.C. United had every right to come into Saturday’s game against the Montreal Impact feeling good about themselves. Most recently, they had gone down to Georgia, and strutted away with three points after a 3-1 win over Atlanta United. The Black-and-Red had gone 3-1-1 in their previous five games, scoring multiple goals in four of those games. Only a 2-0 loss to the New York Red Bulls had soured what was otherwise a successful five weeks.
All that came crashing down though against the Impact, as United gave up an early goal, and lost for the second time at home in 2017, dropping a 1-0 decision in front 14,993 at RFK Stadium. With the chance to climb up the table with three games at home, United instead will tread water for the next week, with just three wins from their first nine games of the season.
And the first half was one to forget for United.
“I thought the whole first half, we were full of shit,” an agitated head coach Ben Olsen said to start off his post game press conference. “I thought we looked like posers. We thought it was an easy day at the office, and we didn’t have enough courage, and we didn’t have enough soccer.”
And once again, United conceded an early goal, one that eventually provided the difference between the two teams. This time, it was 18 year old Ballou Jean-Yves Tabla, who took advantage of acres of space to fire home his second professional goal in the 13th minute.
Not the way United had hoped to start, especially after a decent 10 minutes or so from the start of the game.
“We came out soft, and gave up a soft goal,” midfielder Jared Jeffrey, who missed a tackle on Ballou on the goal, said after the game. “I don’t think anyone [on United] came with it.”
The game against Montreal was the first of three games at home in a row for United. It took until the fourth game of the season for United to score their first goal in 2017, but after that, they had started to perform well, even if they were still a bit further down the standings in the Eastern Conference.
So the chance to get nine points through the three home games was a golden opportunity. One that was gone by the end of 90 minutes against the Impact.
“At home, we expect three points. We had a chance here to put nine points on the board,” center back Bobby Boswell told reporters in the locker room after the game. “Montreal were kind of struggling [coming into the game], and [we] couldn’t separate ourselves from them.”
“It was a lost opportunity tonight,” added Olsen. “The second half, I thought we responded. But it’s easy to respond. I’m looking for guys that can, from the whistle, understand what it takes in this league. And it’s not by being late, not being up to speed.”
It was the second time in the matter of months that Montreal had come to D.C. and left with a win. Back in October, the Impact smashed United’s playoffs run before it even began, dominating the Black-and-Red in a 4-2 win. On Saturday night, the Impact once again scored early on, like they did in the playoff game. But even though they weren’t quite at that same level, the early goal allowed them to get to what they do best, bunkering in, absorbing pressure, and breaking out on the counter.
In the first half, United were held to just three shots. Montreal weren’t overly impressive offensively either to United’s credit, but had the Ballou goal to show for. And United managed a response in the second half, firing away 12 shots. But the closest they got was when Luciano Acosta hit the crossbar from range in the 57th minute.
The few other chances were off the mark, save for a Patrick Mullins shot in the 77th minute that was saved by Evan Bush. A far cry from the offensive output from United in recent weeks.
“We played the way we wanted to in the second half,” Olsen said after the game. “This was a different game than the playoff game. It wasn’t so much them today. If I compare this game to the playoff game, they were really good in the playoff game. This game, it was a lost opportunity.”
Now, United will have to regroup, with the Philadelphia Union and Chicago Fire set to come to town the next two weeks. And with nine points no longer a possibility, United have to refocus, and try to right the wrongs of starting slowly, and giving up goals early in games.
“We understand that wasn’t good enough. You saw that in the second half. We performed a little better,” said Boswell. “We need to put together two halves of soccer. This group is not good enough to think we have a switch that we can turn on and off. We have to be on all the time.”