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The Last Word on D.C. United 1-2 Columbus Crew: Six Packed

In which we wonder what's going to happen to our CDM position for in the short and long terms.

When D.C. United gives up a goal or two as they did Saturday with Columbus Crew SC, results can be frustrating. And when D.C. drops a 2-1 loss to the Crew, things prove to be interesting, starting with:

Their Words:

My Words (Ryan Keefer): "Early in the second half, a Tchani pass found Kamara, who got past a flat-footed Steve Birnbaum and won the race to Hamid, beating the keeper on the short side to his left for a 2-0 lead by the 50th minute. Saborio had an aerial chance in the 58th, but his header went wide. Despite that look, D.C. remained in a funk until Sean Franklin crossed the ball into the Crew area, where it was handled by Chris Klute, and a penalty awarded by referee Ted Unkel. Rolfe fired the ball over Clark to halve the lead, but unfortunately for D.C. that was where it would stay."

Washington Post (Steven Goff): "For a team stuck in the doldrums for six weeks, United showed enough improvement to raise spirits and offer hope down the stretch and into the playoffs. Points, however, have dried up, and with a month left in the regular season, United is tumbling down MLS’s Eastern Conference standings."

MLS Soccer (Pablo Maurer): "Columbus applied pressure early and often, very nearly opening the scoring in the second minute when midfielder Tony Tchani’s close-range attempt found the crossbar. Three minutes later, Tchani took another stab at goal, firing a 25-yard blast that United goalkeeper Bill Hamid parried away at full stretch. Kamara, the MLS Golden Boot leader, stormed in in the 13th minute, rounding several United defenders before bending in an 8-yard shot towards the far post that Hamid did well to push away.

In the 14th minute, D.C. got their first opportunity on a turnover; Costa Rican international Alvaro Saborio pounced on a poor pass 25 yards out and found himself in alone on goal. His right-footed shot, however, was sent directly at Crew SC ‘keeper Steve Clark, who easily smacked it away. Saborio’s 20th-minute effort was better, but yielded similar results, his attempt at a spectacular left-footed volley was pushed over the bar by Clark. The action continued a minute later when United midfielder Perry Kitchen sent in a 20-footer that Clark smothered with little trouble.

Back and forth they went until Crew SC found the opener in the 27th minute. Michael Parkhurst played in a ball from 40 yards out toward the arc; Kamara nodded it on to Crew SC midfielder Tyson Wahl at the near edge of the area. Wahl slipped a pass across to Finlay in the six-yard box, and the speedy midfielder made no mistake, swiveling before knocking it home for his ninth goal of the year."

CSN Mid-Atlantic (Dave Johnson): "Halsti is settling in. After a European career that included UEFA Champions League play with Malmo of Sweden, Finnish international Markus Halsti is making more of a difference with United. Halsti was the Black and Red’s big off season signing and like with his national team he is able to play as a defender or a midfielder. With Davy Arnaud still recovering from a concussion, Halsti started his second straight match in midfield and might have had his best match of the season against the Crew."

Massive Report (Patrick Guldan): "With the game settling down from the manic opening, things started falling together for Crew SC. In the 27th minute, D.C. had seemingly cleared another wave of Crew SC pressure when Michael Parkhurst settled over the ball near midfield. His lofted ball was nodded by Kei Kamara to the wing and Tyson Wahl. Wahl tapped it centrally to Ethan Finlay who danced, turned, and launched a shot from inside the six to put the visitors ahead."

Quotes via the team website:

Ben Olsen (on the game): "I’m not pleased with the result, that’s for sure, but I’m pleased with our effort, and we looked like ourselves for a large stretch of that game, so that’s a positive. It’s a better performance than the Colorado game, and in a lot of ways it’s the best performance we’ve had in over two months. We came up against at team that I think is playing very well right now. The way they pass, they become a very tough team to chase. If you do that, they are good enough to play through your pressure at times, especially when you are chasing the game."

Chris Pontius (on the game): "You just can’t let yourself get down 2-0. It’s a tough hill to climb, especially against a team that keeps the ball. They’re very good at killing off a game. They did that to us tonight."

Markus Halsti (same question): "We had great chances to score more than one goal. I think it was pretty even when you check the chances, like I think we had three really good chances. Sabo had the first chance, the one against the goalie. A goal there, and it’s a different game. You never want to lose; you always want to win the game. So that’s not good with what we did today, but there’s a lot of positive stuff."

Crew Coach Gregg Berhalter (on the result): "What we knew was that the matchup was going to be, a tough conference matchup. D.C. is a very good team, they’ve proven it all year, and we knew it was going to have a playoff style atmosphere to it. I think the guys came out of it in good shape. I think we proved to ourselves that we can stay calm and execute our game whether at home or on the road. "

My Words:

So D.C.'s position in life will likely result in a playoff spot for the third year out of the last four, and will likely result in the second consecutive elimination of the team in the first round. But it was in the midst of Saturday's loss to the Columbus Crew SC, when there was some post-game discussion, that made me wonder if there existed a re-examination of the CDM position within the Black and Red that should be under consideration.

Consider for a second that when it came to things that D.C. is aware of, Perry Kitchen is as close to a lock in terms of hanging onto the ball that one would expect. Unless fellow former college teammate Darlington Nagbe has passed him, there is no one that has touched that ball more than Perry Kitchen at home and has been more accurate with the ball than Kitchen. Even overall, Cristian Higuita (for Orlando City) and Nagbe are the only players that have touched the ball remotely as much as Kitchen, and have managed to be as accurate with the ball as Kitchen has.

Yet there is the matter of Kitchen's future, and Goff's characterization of the talks as being 'far apart' as recently as last week. Kitchen has been sure of a move before, and seems to be the type of guy that knows what he wants to do relatively far in advance; the legend goes that Kitchen was all but certain to go to Notre Dame until a young coach named Caleb Porter talked him out of going and went to a sleepy college town in Akron, Ohio.

Then you have the matter of D.C.United. Presumably, an offer has been extended so, in theory, D.C. would hold onto his rights should Kitchen decide to return stateside. But, Halsti, on a guaranteed cap hit of almost $350,000, would be more cost-certain than Kitchen who is less than a $100k smaller cap hit, who gives away almost a decade of experience to Halsti and whose ceiling appears to be higher. Unlike Kitchen, Halsti would be signed for another year with a club option for 2017. So then the question becomes for a cash-strapped club, do you make the long-term commitment to a young central defensive midfielder similar to what you did in goal (knowing full well that a Kitchen extension and Halsti contract would take up almost a fifth of your cap space), or do you make the harder decision to cut bait and spend your time working on the expensive stuff, things such as a creative central midfielder or forward?

Regardless, depending on the travel roster for the Black and Red Monday morning, the roster proves to be interesting come Saturday night against the Montreal Impact. Kitchen is suspended for yellow card accumulation. Combined with the injury of Davy Arnaud, it would appear to be that Halsti will hold one of those positions. Whether the other one includes a more creative substitution (like Michael Farfan) or a more defensive one (like Jared Jeffrey) remains to be seen, but either player could include an interesting wrinkle for and preview to D.C. United's 2016 campaign that 2015 might not provide.

The Last Word:

So D.C. goes from the District to Jamaica to Canada, in the span of a week, and a midweek game with Montego Bay United is to come, with anywhere from a second to fourth seed in the balance in terms of quarterfinal play in the CONCACAF Champions League. Whether they accomplish a higher seed with their first choice 6 is immaterial. Whether they have made (or will make) a decision on who their 6 will be may very well be the more notable assumption about how D.C. United approaches the position going forward.