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The Last Word on D.C. United's loss to the San Jose Earthquakes: On Slow Starts and Must-Wins

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In which we wonder if both the Black and Red's slow starts combined with their absence in high-visibility games will be a problem not only in their next game, but could have ramifications past that.

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

It's become an all too familiar refrain where D.C. United is involved: give up an early goal or two, try to play from behind and hope for the best. Some times it works, like at the beginning of August against the Philadelphia Union and Real Salt Lake, other times, like Saturday against the San Jose Earthquakes, it never gets off the ground, and the result, a 2-0 shutout loss, puts D.C. in a position where they tighten the noose around their necks just a little more.

Their Words:

Our Words (Steven Streff): "Since Toronto FC ended United's club record 20 game unbeaten streak at RFK Stadium, United had won three straight games, while giving up four goals in the first 10 minutes of those game. That penchant to start slow continued on Saturday, as Wondolowski had the 'Quakes up in the 4th minute. Quincy Amarikwa's cross was palmed away by Dykstra, and Wondolowski initially couldn't apply the finish."

Washington Post (Steven Goff): "United conceded a goal in the first 10 minutes for the fourth consecutive home date, but unlike all of the previous occasions, a rousing comeback did not materialize as the club was held scoreless at RFK for the first time this season and lost there for the second time in 14 outings."

MLS Soccer (Pablo Maurer): "League-leading D.C. United welcomed the San Jose Earthquakes to RFK Stadium on Saturday, with United aiming to stretch their lead atop the table, and the Quakes hoping to climb into playoff position.

San Jose emerged victorious, 2-0, riding Chris Wondolowski's shocking game-winner and a second-half insurance tally from Shea Salinas. The victory, their third in a row, levels the Quakes and Seattle Sounders in the race for the West's final playoff spot. United, despite the loss, remain atop the Supporter’s Shield standings – for now. "

CSN Washington (Dave Johnson): "To Ben Olsen’s point, United was not out played or outworked.  United had the advantage in shots 23-9 and on goal 4-2. Yes, the Earthquakes scored on both of their shots placed on frame, but United still needs to be better. With 23 overall shots and 12 corner kicks, United has to find a way to test the goalkeeper more than four times. The possession was better for United and this did allow outside backs Taylor Kemp and Sean Franklin to threaten with their crosses. Still it would help United to get central midfielders Davy Arnaud and Perry Kitchen more involved in linking with the attack. United was shutout at home for the first time since a 0-0 draw with Sporting Kansas City last October."

Center Line Soccer (Luke James): "For the second straight match, San Jose came out with pace and got on the scoreboared early. Shaun Francis took a pass from Quincy Amarikwa and hit a low shot that United goalkeeper Andrew Dykstra parried out. The rebound fell to Fatai Alashe, and although his shot was deflected the ball came to Wondolowski just outside the six-yard box. Wondo calmly slotted the ball past Dykstra to the far post. This was Wondolowski's 105th career goal and moves him past Dwayne De Rosario for sixth all-time most in goals in MLS history."

Quotes via the team website:

Ben Olsen (on the game): "The start of the game is obviously something we’ve got to continue to work on. That’s it. Over the course of 90 minutes, I don’t think we were outplayed. At times, maybe we were out-competed, but they played well. They played hungry, and I thought we were a little bit unlucky not to get a goal or two throughout the game. They made two plays, both happened to be early in each half, and that’s something that’s haunted us."

Davy Arnaud (on the slow starts): "We started playing from behind again. It would be nice to play from in front at home. I think we have kind of gone against the normal statistic for when teams in MLS score first. If you continue to give up the first goal home or away, it is going to hurt you."

Kofi Opare (same question): "It is definitely not healthy. It is definitely something that we need to stop or eradicate going forward, especially during this stage of the season. It is kind of harder to play in the sense that the opposing team just has to drop off, so it is hard to break them down as opposed to a game being a free-for-all."

RSL Coach Dominic Kinnear (on the result): "It feels good. Honestly, for me it is not important where they are in the standings. They could be in last place or they could be in first place. For us looking at where we are at in the standings, we need to win games home or away and we do know it is a very good team. We are really happy with the win."

My Words:

Well, let's start off with two things: the first being a number that Goff mentioned during the game Saturday:

The second is another quote from Arnaud in Steven Streff's second piece on the game:

"I don't know what it is," Arnaud said of the slow starts, "but it's something we need to take care of. Because we can't be playing from behind."

When you give up almost a third of your total goals in the first 15 minutes of a game, and you still have a fifth of your season left to go, that's a problem. Additionally, D.C.'s 31 goals allowed so far this season is rapidly creeping up on their 37 goals allowed for all of 2014, and unlike 2014, they are liable to not finish tied at the top of the League in terms of team defense either. Making things even more exasperating is that this is a team that managed to have full rest and change between the August 13 loss to New York City FC and Saturday night, and THAT was the performance they provided?

Which brings me to a larger, more worrisome trend when it comes to D.C., which is for a team of professionals, who are coming in knowing exactly what the stakes are, the result is one of underachievement. Let's look to the team they'll be playing Sunday, a New York Red Bulls team that has lost once in two months, and unbeaten in their last six. With a midweek game against a rapidly demoralized Chicago Fire squad, they come in as hosts Sunday licking their chops at this D.C. squad, and there is every reason to do so. Sure, Ben Olsen withheld Bill Hamid from the game Saturday for precautionary reasons, and he will presumably be back for Sunday's game, along with the team's catalyst on offense, Fabian Espindola.

However, when this team has a game where the stakes are on the line, in a room made up of veterans, of professionals, they come up with flat, uninspiring performances. This is the third such time in the last nine months alone where D.C. will be on the road, in a game that has some importance in their futures, and in the previous two games, the results have been multi-goal losses; one to this same Red Bulls team in the first leg of their MLS playoff series last November, and again in Costa Rica to Alajuelense in CONCACAF Champions League play three months later.

While the first two losses forced their eventual elimination in both competitions, if they lose Sunday to the Red Bulls and/or their hold on first, they will likely lose a qualifying spot in said Champions League, as the winner of the Conference opposite of the Supporters' Shield winner would get this position (along with the Shield and MLS Cup winners, and the U.S. Open Cup winner). And if they lose this position, they lose the additional allocation money that goes with it, which, for a team that is struggling to make ends meet as it is, may result in a difficult personnel decision or two, even if they qualify advance out of their Group in this year's tournament.

The Last Word:

Speaking of their Group, Jamaica's own Montego Bay United comes calling Tuesday (party at the Days Inn Lanham!). Winning that game towards getting out of Group and taking one concern off the team's mind. Those who played in Panama against Arabe Unido will likely reprise most of their roles again and will be expected to do well, and should.

It's the first choice guys folks should be concerned about.