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D.C. United needs to play like they give a shit

Against Columbus on Sunday. They didn't, and it showed.

I think most of you know that I'm one who likes to get into the tactics and think about where things went wrong after a loss - which individual match-ups worked or didn't, which areas of the field determined the outcome of the game, why a particular moment was big and important - but Sunday night's disaster doesn't really lend itself to any of that. A 5-0 loss going into the playoffs, in a game that actually mattered for seeding and bye purposes, shouldn't happen. Ever. And when it does, it gets at something more fundamental than who messed up.

I'm not going to over-complicate things for you. The loss at Mapfre Stadium - or at least the capitulation in the second half - comes down to one thing, and one thing only. It's not tactics, or individual matchups, or zones on the field or big moments. We can't even get that far in our analysis. Becuase the players didn't give a shit, and that's why United lost.

This is a Ben Olsen-coached team. Hard work and caring aren't supposed to be issues that we have to worry about. There are folks who will condemn Bennyball for their various reasons, be they aesthetic, tactical or whatever. But failure to try hard has never been a criticism we've heard since Olsen took over midway through the 2010 season. Well, until tonight.

On Sunday, the players didn't care. The guys in Black-and-Red gave up once they went 2-0 down, not that they looked like they particularly cared before that point, either. Olsen even said as much in the post-game, speculating that his players were "saving energy" for the upcoming knockout game Wednesday night at RFK. (A game, incidentally, that could have been avoided with so much as a draw in Columbus.) Content in the knowledge that their season would continue whatever came of Sunday night, the players never showed up.

Bill Hamid was there and looked like he cared. That's the high point. Bobby Boswell and Kofi Opare were checked out. The fullbacks Sean Franklin and Taylor Kemp looked like they were hung over. Perry Kitchen and Marcus Halsti did their best collective impression of a seive in central midfield. You'd be forgiven for forgetting that Nick DeLeon and Chris Pontius started out wide. Fabian Espindola and Chris Rolfe may well have been wearing active camoflauge for as much as we saw out of them. There were substitutes, too, but they changed nothing about the game.

There are teams that could still eke out a result while not caring. But United isn't one of them. With one of the lowest payrolls in the league, and no big name starts, this is a team that needs the chip on their shoulders to be front-of-mind if they are going to get even the littlest taste of success. What we can now say with confidence: they have to give a shit or else they play like, welll, shit.

Suppressing the rage I feel at the fact that the players gave so few fucks that they lost 5-0 and were somehow flattered by the scoreline, one has to ask whether they think they'll be able to flip the switch back to "actually giving a shit" when the New England Revolution visit RFK Stadium on Wednesday night. Because I have a recent memory of six weeks of futility, and in my experience very few teams can unflip the "try" switch once it's off.

Even in United's recent rough patch, though, the players looked like they cared. They looked like they were trying. They didn't look particualrly great at soccer some of the time, but they always at least gave a damn.  I'm not sure anybody on or off the field could seriously say the same about United's regular season finale in Ohio.

I can't think of a performance that could have made me less confident heading into the playoffs. Struggling through an off-night for a close loss I could live with. Combinations not quite coming off and chances left going unfinished would frustrate me, but I'd have having. A D.C. United team failing to show up and fight leaves me at a loss.

Nevertheless, I'll be at RFK this week. (Hopefully twice.) Because I still give a shit.

Hopefully the players do, too, or else the offseason is going to start on Wednesday, earlier than any of us would like.