D.C. United and the New York Red Bulls came into their matchup Saturday night with the loser looking up at the winner in first place in the Eastern Conference. Sure, it was fortunate that the draw kept D.C. in first and that seeing a guy score two goals for the first time since high school (maybe?) was encouraging. Oh, and while D.C. still gave up a pantload of shots, they actually outshot their opponent for the first time this season (progress!). Nevertheless, it certainly felt like a hollow moral victory, and when you make some luck stealing goals in late moments as D.C. has.
Our Words (Steven Streff): "In similar fashion to who the first game between the two teams began three weeks ago, the Red Bulls started out with the upper hand on Saturday night, nearly find an opener twice in the first 15 minutes. On a quick counter attack in the 9th minute, Bradley Wright-Phillips was played in behind United's back line. His attempt to cross back into the middle was deflected by Kofi Opare, but bounced off the post for a corner with Bill Hamid beaten."
Washington Post (Steven Goff): "The lead stood up until the waning moments, when goalkeeper Bill Hamid spilled a free kick and Lloyd Sam converted the rebound. The previous two weeks, United had scored dramatic late goals to secure victories; on this night, it conceded a goal at the end and let a sure victory escape."
MLS Soccer (Pablo Maurer): "D.C. had a handful of opportunities to put the game away. In the 75th minute, substitute Luis Silva – who last week used a dipping free kick to dash Orlando City’s hopes in the final seconds – struck a similar effort from 22 yards out. But this one was turned away from goal by a well-positioned Dax McCarty."
CSN Washington (Dave Johnson): "In the middle the partnership of Kitchen and Davy Arnaud is dynamic. Kitchen scored the goals and Arnaud’s tireless work rate played a big role during stretches of the matches when United seized control. On the flank Chris Rolfe continues to menace opposing defenses. He came close to opening the scoring and weaved from the flank to the inside and unsettled the defense to set up Kitchen’s second goal."
Once A Metro: "I don't know if it was the bye week or D.C.'s strategy in midfield, but the Red Bulls looked pensive at times and forced their own errors, something that we haven't really seen in the first three matches. The team was lucky to get two in on set pieces to draw the match, but this type of effort isn't good enough if they wish to contend this year. Hopefully this is just a small hiccup."
Ben Olsen: "It’s twofold; obviously there’s disappointment in not getting the result we wanted tonight. But, it was a good night. Ironically I thought overall it was a step forward for us. We have to learn from some of the mistakes we made that cost us points. If we can take a large chunk of that game and build off it I think we are in good shape. There was a lot more good than bad in that game. It’s probably the best we played this year from a soccer and a mentality standpoint, so we will learn from it. It’s disappointing, but we will move on to the game next week."
Davy Arnaud: "We’re not that kind of team. We feel like we are not a team that is going to give up late goals and give points away. It is uncharacteristic of us. We have to learn from this because to be the team we want to be in, and to be where we want to be in the standings at the end of the year, that’s unacceptable to give up a two point lead at home. We should have been leaving here tonight with three points."
Bobby Boswell: "For a while, we played the way we wanted to, and I think giving up a goal right after scoring a goal is devastating because the momentum shifts. You have got them on the ropes and then they come down and score so it is a complete reversal. We still have to see that game out. I told the guys after the game that I would take this team over any other team in the league up 2-0, but tonight was just a learning lesson. We have to see the game out and figure out what we can do better whether it’s keeping the ball, tracking runners, etc. There is a lot to be learned from a loss, and I say you can learn more from a loss than a win sometimes, and this feels like a loss because we dropped two goals."
Jesse Marsch (Red Bulls coach): "We’ve been tested this season so far. But certainly when you dig a hole, like two zero down on the road, that really tests you and you find out a lot about your guys. Certainly the fact they responded right away by getting a goal I think that was important because it gave the game a chance. Then for them to keep pushing the way they did and get the equalizer, I think it was deserved and I’m proud of them. I’m proud of the fact they believe in themselves and each other."
The last time we were here, we talked about the sustainability of whatever version of "Bennyball" you wanted to attribute to Ben Olsen. And at least when it came to their rematch with the Red Bulls, having them finally outshoot their opponent for the first time in six matches was encouraging. But we also mentioned that they were having a knack for scoring goals at the ends of matches. Lost in this recent stretch of luck over all competitions is that they had quelched a period of time where they were on the receiving ends of such dramatics, as recently as the first half of the 2014 season.
"I feel like we should have walked out of here with a win." Ben Olsen (3/29/14 vs. Chicago)
This is a team that has been as good as any in the league and we came in here and I thought we had a good game plan but at the end it still hurts." Ben Olsen (4/19/14 vs. Columbus)
"...there’s a lot of character and a lot of positives with our group, but we cannot...have these cardinal sins." (Ben Olsen, 5/3/14 vs. Portland)
Now, we get that sometimes things have to be said to appease the vultures in the press (your truly inclusive), and we get that games like this where results are taken from you/you give them away are going to sting like a B. And there are differences between the D.C. United squads of early 2014 and 2015 so far. Consider that of the team who started last May against the Timbers, that only five of those players appeared in Saturday's game. There is a caveat that Luis Silva also came on as a sub last May, and Conor Doyle who started last May, subbed on Saturday.
But this team remains veterans who know how to kill a game, and this absence of awareness of the circumstances by some of the people at the heart of the squad did them no favors Saturday. We get you want to score goals and you had your chances to do so even when working with the lead as you did. But the decision to find the dagger found the team abandoning the notion of trying to kill the rest of the game in the process, and the Red Bull speedsters continued speeding, to the point where it rewarded them when they needed it the most, to the detriment of the Black and Red.
The Last Word:
Fortunately, this scenario went from taking all the points to sharing them against a rival, and D.C. did not lose their Eastern Conference leadership as a result. The task proves to be tougher the next two weeks, facing a newly stingy Houston Dynamo defense, before heading to the Canadian chapter of Cascadia to play the Vancouver Whitecaps in two weeks. After marching in with the supporters, Fabian Espindola will be presumably going to Canada and subsequently leading his mates into battle into a May where they will have ample opportunity to separate themselves from their competition (five of the seven games they play will be against the Eastern Conference).
Here is hoping that they can strike the balance between going for the jugular and winning as everyone returns to form one way or the other.