For 50 minutes, D.C. United looked like a team energized by the Gold Cup break, but after 90 minutes against the Seattle Sounders, normalcy was restored. Up 3-0 after Lloyd Sam’s goal in the 50th minute, United conspired to throw it all away, conceding four goals in the final 40 minutes of the game and falling 4-3 at CenturyLink Field.
Deshorn Brown and Ian Harkes, who both scored in United’s last game, helped the Black-and-Red race away in the first half, as United conceded possession in exchange for the two goal lead at the break. Sam made it three five minutes into the second, but that was the peak for D.C. Moments later, known United-killer Will Bruin got the Sounders back within two goals. Brad Evans made it a one-goal game, Gustav Svensson equalized from a corner, and Cristian Roldan, fresh off of Gold Cup duty, won it in the 78th minute.
In their last two games, both on the road, United have scored five times, but have zero points to show for their efforts.
15 days since his side’s last outing, head coach Ben Olsen elected to keep most of the group that lost 4-2 to FC Dallas on July 4th together. The only two changes to the team were the introduction of Sean Franklin at right back for Chris Odoi-Atsem, and Marcelo Sarvas for Jared Jeffrey at defensive midfield. It was Franklin’s first appearance in a league match since May 6th, though he did play 90 minutes against the New England Revolution in the US Open Cup in June.
Realistically needing 30 or so points from their final 15 games to make the playoffs, United’s night could not have started better. In the 8th minute, Patrick Nyarko raced on to a pass from Luciano Acosta, bursting past Roman Torres. Nyarko got all the way to the end line, before sliding the ball across the face of goal, which allowed Brown to tap in at the far post.
Sam had a curling shot saved by Tyler Miller in the 15th minute, and Kofi Opare headed right at Miller from the resulting corner. And while United was giving up all the possession to the Sounders, a shot that went wide from Aaron Kovar was Seattle’s most dangerous moment in the opening 25 minutes.
Two minutes later, Harkes doubled United’s advantage with a well struck goal, his second in two games. Making his way through midfield after a combination with Acosta, Harkes slid a pass to Sam, who was accompanying him on the run. Sam then waited for the run of Franklin, being slotting a through ball behind the defensive line. Franklin immediately cut it back towards the top of the box, where Harkes took two touches to set himself up, before firing a shot past Miller.
At that point, United tried to turn the screw, enjoying more possession, and putting Seattle under even more pressure. But Brown sliced a promising shot wide in the 31st minute, and with time and space in the box, Nyarko sent a shot right at Miller a minute later.
Acosta and Steve Birnbaum had chances to make it three before the break, but Acosta shot right at Miller, and Birnbaum couldn’t direct his header on goal from Acosta’s cross.
It might have been easy to assume that United would come out in the second half content to sit back and defend their lead, but a brilliant move from Acosta helped United strike again five minutes into the half. Keeping a ball in play on the sideline, Acosta quickly made his way into the attacking third. Then, waiting for others to catch up, Acosta allowed Brown to pull Chad Marshall out of the middle of the field. Sam occupied that space, and he collected Acosta’s pass, beating Miller from the top of the box for the 3-0 lead.
That advantage barely lasted over minute, as Bruin quickly got the Sounders back with a glancing header. Joevin Jones had the ball out wide for Seattle, and whipped in a wonderfully placed cross, allowing Bruin to get in front of Opare. Bruin did just enough to redirect the cross, finding the net at the far post to keep Seattle within two goals.
Nicolas Lodeiro was given all sorts of time after collecting a pass just outside of United’s box in the 57th minute. Marcelo eventually came to close him down, but not in time to deter a shot from Lodeiro, but United were given a reprieve when the shot bounced wide at the far post.
Five minutes later, Evans got the Sounders within a goal. A long throw for Kelvin Leerdam, who was making his Sounders debut, was only cleared to the top of the box. Franklin hesitated in closing down Nouhou Tolo, who quickly played out wide to Jones. Jones - now playing as a winger following the game-changing double substitution that brought Nouhou and Leerdam into the game - picked out Evans, who stayed onside to nod past Worra from inside the six yard box.
Bruin and Roldan combined in the 74th minute, almost conjuring up an equalizer. The two exchanged passes at the top of the box, allowing Roldan to burst through for a certain goal. But a last ditch effort from Marcelo blocked the shot, saving United from giving away a three goal lead.
United wasn’t out of trouble. Lodeiro curled a ball in towards the near post, and Svensson - sprinting unmarked to the near post - was at the right spot to clip home at the near post. His shot sneaked past both Travis Worra and Taylor Kemp, who had an angle on the shot, but couldn’t get in front of what was essentially a no-look shot into the roof of the net.
A fourth felt inevitable, and Roldan completed the first come from behind win after trailing by three goals in regulation in MLS history. A simple flick from Bruin found Roldan, who took a deft touch to get past Birnbaum. Worra charged out and got big, but Roldan cooly slid the ball through his legs and in to complete the astounding recovery.
Lodeiro was sent off late for kicking Marcelo from the ground, though Marcelo was perhaps lucky not to receive his second yellow in the exchange. But by that time, the wind was gone from United’s sails, and despite sending Birnbaum forward they remained rooted to the bottom of the table.
United, with 18 points from 20 games, finally head back home for their first home game in a month, hosting the Houston Dynamo on Saturday.