The board hoisted up by the fourth official at the end of regulation said six minutes. By the time the game was completely over, the clock had hit triple digits, a true rarity in regular season play. But all those extra seconds couldn’t make the difference for D.C. United on Saturday night, as they fell 2-1 to Orlando City at RFK Stadium.
With the loss, any glimmer of hope United had of making the playoffs this year, however minuscule, surely went out the window as United wasted an opportunity to jump out of last place in the Eastern Conference. With a possible ceiling of 46 points on the year, even a six-game winning streak probably won’t be enough.
“It was two desperate teams tonight, trying to claw some points,” head coach Ben Olsen said during his press conference. “It was physical from the get-go. We had a few good looks in the first half we could have capitalized on. It feels tough. Second half was gutsy from us. I thought we maybe should have earned a little bit more out of that game.”
For all the troubles United have had offensively this year, in which they’ve scored just 23 goals in 28 games, creating chances against the Lions wasn’t the issue. United had moments on either side of the half to find the back of the net, only to be let down by their finishing. Kofi Opare did score in the last minute of regulation, but on another night, that could have been the desperate winner that United needed, and not a consolation goal.
But after United wasted a couple of chances early in the second half, two quick goals from the Lions crushed the spirit in front of 18,028 at RFK. Cyle Larin turned in a cross from Dom Dwyer in the 20th minute, and Giles Barnes capitalized on a poor clearance to make it two in the 28th. For a team that hasn’t scored multiple goals at home in over two months, a draw - much less a win they really needed - seemed out of reach for United.
“It’s hard. We had to win, we were there to win. It’s on us. Overall, the team has to do a lot better,” Paul Arriola said of the loss. “We knew the second balls were going to be important for us to pick up, and we didn’t do that. That was frustrating.”
If not for a glaring miss though from Patrick Mullins in the 62nd minute though, the story might have been different. The striker, who has had a rough 2017 between two different injuries and misfortunes in front of goal, was through Orlando’s back line with just Joe Bendik to beat. But Mullins, in his second season with the team, failed to even get his shot on target, with the effort sailing wide.
“I need to be able to have the team score more than one goal at home,” Olsen said after the game, about United’s inability to convert chances. “We need to put a few in. And we haven’t been able to do that often at home. Usually when you do that, you get three points. The looks are there. The quality is there.”
And yet, even when Opare struck in the 89th minute, there was hope. Orlando were already down to 10 men, as Servando Carrasco was sent off in the 79th minute for a second yellow. Seb Hines got sent off in stoppage time, but United were unable to mount the kind of miraculous comeback they needed.
“Honestly, it’s tough losing like that. But we’ve got some good guys in the locker room. Guys are fighting,” captain Steve Birnbaum told B&RU in the locker room after the game. “It’s going to come, and we’re going to start putting a ton of goals away. We’re looking forward to the next game, and getting better as a group, and gelling.”
Given how pressed both teams were for three points, Olsen talked after the game about how there wasn’t much to focus on in terms of soccer. Both teams were willing to scratch and fight for everything, negating some tactical points of emphasis from both teams.
On the other hand though, despite the result, it’s easy to see on the field that this team has continued to progress since the end of the transfer window. The result wasn’t there against Orlando City, but the recent three game win streak showed that this team is capable of more. So while this loss might signal the end of United’s playoff hopes, the performance might be a sign of things to come from the Black-and-Red heading into the 2018 season.
“It’s a difficult game to evaluate from a soccer standpoint, because it was such a donnybrook,” said Olsen. “But you can evaluate from an intensity and physicality and speed [standpoint]. It had that playoff desperation-type feel to it. You can evaluate that part of some of the guys. It’s an exciting group. As difficult as this loss is, I’m thrilled with the group’s mentality since we’ve made some changes and additions.”