Talen Energy Stadium has not been kind to D.C. United over the past couple of years, even when the Black-and-Red were making the playoffs in three consecutive seasons. And this year’s version of United, who’ve struggled mightily to score goals, fared no better on Saturday night in a 1-0 to the Philadelphia Union. The loss is also their fourth consecutive game in Chester without a goal.
Amidst a heavy run of games in both the league and US Open Cup, came off a midweek performance that gave the team hopes of turning around what has been a poor 2017. But after conceding a goal to Fafa Picault in the first half, Lamar Neagle was denied twice by Andre Blake in the second half - once from the penalty spot, and a second on a stoppage time header - that denied United what would have been an important point on the road.
“If I do better, we have a result, maybe even come away with three points,” Neagle said after the game. “Offensively we’re doing better. Defensively, we did a great job. Offensively, a few of us need to pick it up, and I’m included.”
United started the game better than their counterparts, although truthfully, the opening half was poor from both teams. The Black-and-Red, less than 72 hours after their win over Atlanta United, had the first couple of chances in the game, but they didn’treally test Blake.
Then, from nowhere, United were behind from a goal from Picault. United struggled to organize in transition, allowing Picault to be wide open in the box. A cross from Alejandro Bedoya might not have been meant for him, but Picault laced a volley past Bill Hamid, punishing United for their one sleepy moment in the half.
The second half was better from United, though Blake was equal to their best two looks. Taylor Kemp won a penalty for United in the 70th minute, as his right footed shot took a deflection, and then hit Oguchi Onyewu on the arm in the box. But Neagle - who was three for three previously for United from the spot - couldn’t beat Blake from 12 yards out.
“I got indecisive, and ended up with an easy PK for him to save,” said Neagle after the game.
Yet, even though a defeat seemed imminent, United had one final chance in stoppage time. Luciano Acosta did well to whip a cross into the box that was poorly defended, and Neagle rose up to head towards goal. Only to be thwarted by Blake once again.
“I thought it was going in. Just seems to not be my year thus far,” added Neagle. “I haven’t been able to score from open play. It’s frustrating for me.”
The two saves were the types of saves that United have come to expect from their own keeper, Bill Hamid. On Saturday night though, they were on the receiving end of game changing stops.
“He’s capable of having those kind of nights,” United coach Ben Olsen said of Blake after the game. “He is one of the goalkeepers in the league, like Bill [Hamid], that is capable of saving your team points. He did that tonight. Credit to him.”
Of course, that doesn’t make the loss any easier to swallow. The last time United left Chester with three points, the date was May 10, 2014. Since then, they’ve lost four times, conceding six goals and scoring none. But with points to make up after a disappointing start to the season, a game in which they walked away with nothing will sting more than it might have had otherwise.
“We created a penalty kick, and plenty of looks, a bunch of service in the second half,” added Olsen in his post game press conference. “But [the Union] made a play tonight, and we didn’t.”
Singular moments have plagued United at various points throughout the season, and are likely to come back to haunt the club in the playoff chase. The fact that they’ve now been held without a goal 11 times this season in 17 games is a damning indictment on how poorly United has performed in front of goal this season.
“This game was kind of disappointing, because in the second half, we pushed higher, played faster, and created more chances,” Sebastien Le Toux said after the game. “[We] put more balls in the box, and make their back line compete for everything. There was more pressure from us, but Andre made some great saves.”
There was also a bizarre incident just after Neagle’s penalty was saved. Acosta and Haris Medunjanin tussled for a ball near the out of bounds line, and Medunjanin went down from a shove by Acosta. Referee Sorin Stoica thought he saw a kick on Medunjanin by Acosta, and showed the Argentine a red card.
However, in the discussions that followed, Medunjanin told Stoica that he did not think he was kicked, and Stoica ultimately rescinded the red card. Not something you see every day, both from the player and the referee. But Olsen had plenty of praise for Medunjanin’s actions after the game.
Haris Medunjanin with an explanation of the incident with Acosta & a shot at Felipe: pic.twitter.com/xVOtqcEhMY— Joe Tansey (@JTansey90) June 25, 2017
“[I’ve] got a lot of respect for that. I think he’s a classy player, and a classy human being,” Olsen said of Medunjanin.
Of course, United couldn’t make the most of that break. They’ve now lost 9 of their 17 league games this season, and are now looking up at everyone in this Eastern Conference save the Montreal Impact, who they face in a week in Canada.