D.C. United had a rough week to face, but Saturday night seemed to be the chance to end the eight day stretch on a high note. The Black-and-Red had stolen three points against the Vancouver Whitecaps in Canada, thanks to a penalty that shouldn’t have been. Then, they gave themselves a chance to win against Orlando City on Wednesday, only to fall 2-0 after failing to convert their chances.
Getting back to home, United also had the chance to wash the bitter taste out of their mouths from their recent three game homestand, in which they scored zero goals in losing all three games.
Instead, United once again failed to put the ball in the back of the net at home, settling for a point in a 0-0 draw against the LA Galaxy. It was the sixth time in eight home games that United have failed to score at home, with their last goal at RFK Stadium coming back on April 8th, in the second half of a 2-1 win over New York City FC.
Yet, to hear players and coaches after the game, there was plenty of positives from a week in which United took four points from the three games.
“Overall, it’s been a good week,” Ben Olsen said in his press conference after the game. “We’ve played some good stuff, we’ve been unlucky in front of goal. We picked up an away win. It’s not doom and gloom.”
“I’ve been encouraged through the entire week. It was a difficult task, and we wanted more points than we have out of the week,” Olsen added. “We showed we can win some games on the road, a little dirty, in Vancouver. I thought we played very well in Orlando, and created a bunch of opportunities, and should have gotten something out of that. Thought we continued with good form tonight. If we continue to play that way, the wins will start to come.”
Only now, there’s a microscopic margin of error for United for the rest of the season. The large banner above the 461 section at RFK Stadium looms large. It reads just 9 home games left at the aging stadium. And that’ll hold true, with United not getting a game at home in the playoffs, if the current issues in front of goal continue through the season.
“Sometimes it just feels like there is a force field in front of goal,” midfielder Jared Jeffrey said after the game. “The last few [games], we’ve been getting really good looks. Once the first one comes, [the goals] will start flowing a bit.”
The problem is now, even if United took care of business at home for the rest of the season, they would still need to pick up points on the road throughout the final 20 games of the season. And that’s a big ask for a team that won just two games on the road in 2016, even while ending the season as one of the highest scoring teams in the league.
But if they can’t find the goals on the road either, United are facing the prospect of missing the playoffs for the first time since forgettable 2013 season. Not exactly the way United had hoped to send out RFK Stadium.
“We weren’t having the chances before. We’re not so happy we didn’t win the game,” midfielder Lloyd Sam said after the game, “But we’re going in the right direction. No point in being down about this game. We played pretty well today.”
A bonus for the Black-and-Red now is that they’ll have some time to regroup after this tough stretch of games. United don’t play again until June 13th, when they host Christos FC, an amateur side from Maryland, at the Maryland SoccerPlex in the US Open Cup. United will have to be wary of an upset there, but the more important game comes four days later, when they head north to take on Toronto FC.
“The Open Cup is a game we can’t look past, but it’s a good opportunity to refocus, and raise the energy levels again,” Ian Harkes told B&RU about United’s upcoming break. “And work on things we might have struggled with in this tough run. It’s a good opportunity for us to decompress, and then take it to them going into the second half of the season.”
Once United return to MLS action on June 17th, the face a treacherous road stretch. Five of their next six games will be away from the friendly confines on East Capitol Street, with a game at home against Atlanta United sandwiched between trips to Toronto, Philadelphia, Montreal, Dallas, and Seattle.
Not exactly the easiest way to make up ground in the Eastern Conference. Still, Olsen believes that this team is capable of keeping their playoff streak intact.
“I still have a belief that this team is a playoff team, and that we can get there,” the head coach said. “In my mind, this week was a big step for us moving forward.”