For as poor of a goal scoring record that D.C. United has in 2017, the Black-and-Red rolled into Frisco, Texas on Independence Day, and scored twice against FC Dallas, one of the best defensive teams in Major League Soccer. Ian Harkes scored from outside the box in the first half to give United a 1-0 lead, and Deshorn Brown scored his first goal for the club in the second half.
Two goals on the road would surely end in some sort of result for D.C., right?
Not exactly. Those two goals sandwiched a 15 minute stretch of the game, on either side of the half, in which FC Dallas scored four times in a 4-2 victory, sending United to their 11th defeat in 19 games in the league this year, and putting United in dead last in the Supporters’ Shield race.
The performance, despite the two goals, left head coach Ben Olsen none too pleased after the game.
“We’re naive. We aren’t good enough in the moments that matter right now at both ends,” Olsen told B&RU after the game. “We’re alright, we’re not that far away from being a playoff team. But we’re in last place because we’re not making any plays at both ends. We need players to play better. We need players to make better decisions. We need players to stop being naive, and grow up a little bit.”
That naivety, according to Olsen, can be found at both ends of the field right now.
“There’s five moments. Five offensive, five defensive. All we can do better [on],” said Olsen. “We can dissect every play, but we have to find ways to win games. And it’s these little moments we have to do better at. Right now, we’re not doing those.”
One of the biggest issues for United on Tuesday night was the inability to slow Dallas down once the Hoops had decided to start flexing their dominance over United. The game got off to a quiet start, with the first chance coming in the 23rd minute. But Travis Worra was equal to Maximiliano Urruti’s effort, as United did well enough early on to stymie Dallas’ attack.
Then, Harkes scored a well taken goal from 20 yards out in the 30th minute. It was United’s first effort on goal, their first real menacing attack. But while it had given them a lead on the road, it also awoken the attacking juggernaut that Oscar Pareja’s team can be while at their best. Mauro Diaz went close minutes later, and then Worra made a good save on Roland Lamah to keep United United ahead.
From there though, the wheels fell off for United. Atiba Harris got away from Steve Birnbaum to head home an equalizer in the 41st minute, and then in the third minute of stoppage time, Lamah gave Dallas the lead, slamming home from close range as United failed to scramble away from their goal.
Instead of going into the half with a lead, or even level, United had found a way to undo the advantage of Harkes’ goal.
“It was just lackadaisical,” Harkes told B&RU about the team’s effort after going up a goal. “We have to react the next five minutes to stay on top, and be disciplined. Coach talked about at halftime little moments where we are slipping up.”
And yet, even with Olsen addressing those moments at the break, United started the second half in the same manner. Urruti had no business scoring in the 47th minute, when he shot from near the end line went through Worra’s legs, and bounced in for a goal. In the 55th minute, a turnover in midfield was surgically taken advantage of by the Hoops, who needed just four passes before Lamah scored his second goal of the night.
The wheels had come off at that point for United. At no point during that stretch, had anyone wearing Black-and-Red been able to do something, anything, to help stop the bleeding. Adding up those little moments that Olsen referred to, United saw a lead turn into three goal deficit.
From there, a comeback from United seem far fetched. Just two minutes after Lamah’s second goal though, Brown popped up to score his first goal for United, corralling a pass from Luciano Acosta, and firing home his first MLS goal since 2014. That left United with another 30 minutes to find two more goals.
The chances were there too, most notably with Lamar Neagle in the 72nd minute, and Acosta in stoppage time. But once again, the little moments went against United.
“We were never out of the game after Deshorn gets that goal,” said Harkes. “We want to keep pushing, but they do a good job of being organized, killing off the game. And silly turnovers from us, and not being patient, [cost us].”
It seems like an eternity now, but just two weeks ago, United took down Atlanta United at home, winning 2-1. That seemed like the type of result that might have helped the Black-and-Red turn their season around, even with four out of their next five league games being on the road.
As they hit the international break for the group stage of the Gold Cup, that momentum from the win against Atlanta has completely vanished. United have lost four in a row in all competitions, bowing out of the US Open Cup, and losing three times on the road in the league. That now has them anchoring the league table, with just 15 games left in the 2017 season.
“We’ll continue to push. We’ll get some additions,” Olsen added after a question from B&RU. “We’ll keep pushing these guys. It’s still a good group. We’ll keep banging, and hopefully our fortunes will change.”
The additions that Olsen speaks of will primarily be focused on the offensive end. Two goals on the road against Dallas were nice, but United is still the worst offensive team in MLS. So when the transfer window opens on Monday, expect more changes in United’s makeup offensively, even as they continue to struggle in many areas defensively.
“If I said attacking players, would that surprise you?,” Olsen said in response to a question from B&RU about where United would bring players in. “We’re looking to get better. Obviously, we need some spark in the attack. It’s not just up to offensive players. It’s not just their responsibility. Nobody is chipping in on set pieces. We’re not getting a goal from a second line run.”
“We’re not good on defensive set pieces right now. It seems every other game we’re giving one up,” an exasperated Olsen added. “Which has been a staple of this club - being a good defensive set piece team. Lot of things that can get better, but we still have a core that is good, and hopefully things will turn.”