D.C. United needed to keep on winning to keep their slim 2017 playoff hopes alive, but instead they fell 2-1 to Orlando City on Saturday night at RFK Stadium. United wasted a bright start to the first half, and fell behind by goals from Cyle Larin and Giles Barnes midway through the half.
Kofi Opare scored in the 89th minute to give United some hope of at least a point at home, but despite a barrage of crosses, the Black-and-Red could never really threaten in stoppage time, losing for the 16th time this season. The loss ended a three-game winning streak for United, all three of which finished 1-0 for the Black-and-Red.
With a break of two weeks since beating the New England Revolution, head coach Ben Olsen kept most of his starting lineup together, making just one change. Steve Birnbaum returned from his concussion to take his spot back in at center back, with Jalen Robinson, who started the games against Atlanta United and the Revs, relegated to the bench.
Still needing to win a bunch of games to have a chance at the playoffs, United came out strong against the Lions. In the 10th minute, Patrick Mullins, who has been snake-bitten in front of goal this year, was denied by a save by Joe Bendik. Racing onto a cross into the box from Paul Arriola, Mullins one-timed a shot that the keeper was able to push over for a corner.
Larin hit a weak attempt at Bill Hamid in the 14th minute, before a second opportunity popped up for United in the 16th minute. A free kick from Zoltan Stieber was initially cleared, but Arriola sent the ball back towards the far post. Luciano Acosta volleyed the service back in front of goal, allowing Birnbaum to race into the opening. But Birnbaum, who has yet to tally this season, saw his header bounce wide of the post.
Mullins had a look from distance in the 19th minute fly over the bar, but that was the extent of their threatening chances in the first half. Like so many times this year, United paid the price for failing to turn chances into a lead.
Just a minute after Mullins’ miss, Orlando had their first goal of the night. Dom Dwyer, who has yet to score since a big money summer move from Sporting Kansas City, was able to work himself free on the left side of the box. A cross into the middle found Larin, who had created space from Kofi Opare, allowing the Canadian to prod home his 11th goal of the season.
In the 27th minute, a similar play nearly resulted in City’s second goal, if not for the wastefulness of Antonio Nocerino. Dwyer once again worked himself free on the left hand side of the box. His cross this time was met by Nocerino on the run, but the Italian midfielder couldn’t keep his shot down.
That miss mattered little though, as Orlando City had their second goal moments later thanks to Barnes. A cross from the right hand side was poorly dealt with by United, as Sean Franklin could only send his clearance right in front of goal. That set up Barnes perfectly for a simple finish from 8 yards, giving him 3 goals on the year and what turned out to be the game-winner.
Yoshimar Yotun, making his fourth appearance since his arrival during the secondary transfer window, tested Hamid from range in the 34th minute. Yotun’s knuckling effort seemed to bamboozle Hamid a bit, but the keeper was able to push the shot over the goal safely.
Stieber had one chance late in the half for United, as his free kick was partially cleared out of danger. The ball fell back to Stieber outside of the box, allowing the Hungarian international to shoot, but Bendik sharply guided the shot out for a corner, which the Black-and-Red couldn’t capitalize on.
Needing a win to keep their season alive, United had a couple of golden opportunities to get back into the game, but they were never able to take advantage.
The first chance came in the 55th minute as Stieber freed himself up down the left. His cross into the middle was inviting, and defender Danny Toia slipped trying to make a play on the ball. That allowed Arriola a free header on goal, but the American was unable to find the target as he and Toia collided.
In the 61st minute, after a spell of pressure from United, Acosta lifted the ball into the box, where Franklin - up from a previous surge - made a run for it. Franklin beat the onrushing Bendik to the ball, but the right back’s chipped shot was parried away by Bendik, who did well to make himself big in front of goal.
United should have had their goal a minute later, as Mullins was played in behind the back line of Orlando. The striker, who was integral in the team’s scoring outburst in the latter half of 2016, had just Bendik to beat for his first goal of the season. Instead, the curling shot from Mullins wasn’t even on target, and he was immediately replaced by Deshorn Brown.
Olsen also brought on Lloyd Sam for Stieber, looking for a way to spice up the attack. Dwyer though could have made in three, but his shot from close range was saved by his fellow 2017 Gold Cup winner Hamid.
Servando Carrasco, who was an early second half sub for the injured Cristian Higuita, was given his marching orders in the 79th minute for a second yellow card (his first was for time wasting just three minutes earlier) due to a late, lunging tackle on Arriola.
United kept up the pressure, but were seemingly headed to yet another game at home without a goal. But in the 89th minute, Opare popped up for this second goal of the season to give United a glimmer of hope. A quick free kick was taken, and Marcelo Sarvas sent the ball into the box. A first touch from Brown bounced perfectly for Opare, who slide a shot under Bendik, to get the Black-and-Red within a goal at 2-1.
Seb Hines was then sent off deep into stoppage time, as he tussled off the ball with Sam before hurling the United winger to the ground. The red card gave United a two man advantage in the waning moments of the game, but Orlando was able to drop deep and defend their box without conceding an equalizer.
United, with 28 points from 28 games, are back in action next Saturday, when they head to Illinois to take on the Chicago Fire.