The odds of D.C. United defeating the New York Red Bulls Sunday were long, made even longer by the absences of Bobby Boswell and Chris Pontius. And they certainly did their best to close the metaphoric faucet of goals the Black and Red has been prone to allow to the Metros lately, but it wasn't enough as they dropped a 1-0 result and are forced to go to Red Bull Arena and do something they don't do, which is win, with multiple goals, on the road.
First leg of a Playoff Series huh? Marginal Progress.
We've talked before about how D.C. has done in the first leg of a playoff series and at least compared to others, they were better prepared for the task. But there still seemed to be some indecisiveness behind it. Halsti and Kitchen were cover for the backline for the most part, and when the team didn't have the ball early, they tried to press and have a bit of energy (because goodness knows having a bunch of geriatrics run around after a tough midweek game generally proves a winning strategy, I guess), but as soon as the energy died down, so did the scoring chances, and while it took a bit of guile to get that goal by Dax McCarty, it's still an away goal that the Metros can take back to Harrison in their hip pocket.
Compared to prior two-leg playoff appearances? It's better, and if there is something to grasp from those things it's that in second legs, D.C. has won both last year's against the Red Bulls and this year's at home in CONCACAF Champions League play against Alajuelense by identical 2-1 scores. But not losing big compared to losing by 1 is...still losing. For further emphasis...
So how difficult is this?
Very. I'm going to keep banging this drum and will do so one more time. D.C. has scored one goal at RBA in the six matches since Nick DeLeon bounced them from the 2012 playoffs. They've scored two goals on the road once this season, against a 10-man Vancouver Whitecaps squad at the end of April. Since Alvaro Saborio's first half goal against New York City FC back in August(!), D.C. has scored 1 goal on the road in their last 414 minutes (or 4 and a half matches). Two goals on the team who allowed the fewest goals in the East? Good luck with that.
Having Oparnbaum was kind of nice, at least.
It was interesting to see how Steve Birnbaum and Kofi Opare would do against Bradley Wright-Phillips, and they handled themselves well for the most part. Between those three, Opare (just turned 25) is the oldest, with Hamid catching up to him in three weeks. Birnbaum turns 25 in January. Assuming Perry Kitchen returns, then that's a 24 year old to add to the spine of the squad.
Which is why the recent contract extension for Boswell is both curious and discouraging. If Boswell comes back Sunday, then the back line, while surely being organized, because a tiny bit slower and less athletic. So if the thinking behind his extension is more of stability, then sooner or later, one of Opare or Birnbaum decides to leave because the lack of playing time is discouraging. Then you're left either replacing two center backs at the end of 2017. Boswell will almost certainly start Sunday with one of those players, but in the longer term, give the kids some more run together, please and thank you.
But about the rest of the Youth...
I get that, when you substitute Chris Rolfe for Conor Doyle, you're expecting a bit of stability in back, particularly after the preceding twenty minutes of the second half when the Metros have had the majority of possession and scoring chances. But with 10 minutes left to go and your team in need of a result, what kind of reason do you need to hold onto those two subs, posterity? Or put another way, if Sean Franklin isn't forced to go out due to a recurring Achilles problem, would Miguel Aguilar have even been brought on by Ben Olsen? Don't get me wrong, I'm glad that he was, but if it's at the expense of moving Nick DeLeon to right back as it was Sunday? Bruh.
Where are we now?
We'll talk about what's next when that next happens. In the meantime, one more game, win, score two goals doing so, or go home. If you feel so compelled, the various D.C. supporters' groups have ticket and bus packages for same day, round trip travel to Harrison. Book a seat on the bus, yell your brains out, sleep when you're dead, or at least on the bus trip back.
I mean, Sunday's game will mark the three-year anniversary of this, so who knows, you may see some magic.