United Haunted by Familiar Breakdowns

Mistakes against Red Bulls fit season-long pattern
by Peter Muller   |   Thursday, September 05, 2013

United Capitol – column on DC United (DCU) & the Washington DC/DMV area soccer scene.

As D.C. United prepares for their only remaining game that matters this year – the U.S. Open Cup final against Real Salt Lake on Oct. 1 – they continue to be haunted by the same types of breakdowns that have plagued the team throughout the 2013 campaign.

United’s 2-1 loss to the Red Bulls in New Jersey on Saturday night perfectly encapsulated the club’s season-long experience.

D.C. scored a rare road goal and displayed encouraging signs at times, particularly in the 2nd half when they resembled the team that willed its way into the playoffs last year.

But, as has been the case all too often this year, they were ultimately undone by inevitable lapses at key moments and a failure to make the most of the few chances they had.

United again conceded a goal early when Lloyd Sam’s chip in the 8th minute – which may or may not have been intended as a shot – found its way off the post and into the net.

Nick DeLeon scored his 1st MLS goal of the season on a nice cut-back in the 36th minute to equalize, briefly bringing United back into the game.

But the Red Bulls retook the lead 2 minutes later when Jonny Steele burned Dejan Jakovic and sent a nice cross into the middle to Tim Cahill, who out jumped Daniel Woolard and headed the ball past goalkeeper Bill Hamid.

United played well in the 2nd half, despite a missed penalty kick by Dwayne De Rosario, but it was not enough for them to rescue a point.

At this stage in United’s season, another loss simply adds to their woes and makes it almost certain they will finish at the bottom of the Supporters’ Shield table - although they have a chance to make ground on Chivas USA this weekend (a 6-pointer!).

But the fact that the same pattern has recurred regularly throughout this campaign is perhaps the most baffling aspect of United’s season.

The breakdowns happen nearly every week – generally mental mistakes rather than physical errors – and cannot be attributed to a single player, although certain culprits have committed more than their fair share.

Rather, the entire team has been infected by the disease. And despite a mid-season shuffling of the roster, the problems continue.

It can be a failure to close down an attacker at a key moment, a defender losing track of a mark on a set piece, or an attacker sending a shot wide on one of the rare goal scoring opportunities that United generates.

The particulars may vary slightly but the result is nearly always the same – United can be counted on doing something to undermine their effort to win the game.

DCU manager Ben Olsen continues to say he likes what he sees in his squad and believes he has building blocks for the future. 

But until he can get his team to eliminate the same breakdowns that occur week after week, United seems destined for history to keep repeating itself.

D.C. United notes

United will face fellow cellar-dwellers Chivas USA on Sunday for the 1st and only time this season. Chivas has earned 2 draws and a win in their last 4 games, including an upset of the Red Bulls in Los Angeles last month. The addition of Carlos Bocanegra has helped to bolster their backline and Erick “El Cubo” Torres, on loan from Chivas de Guadalajara, has scored 6 goals in 7 games for the Goats.

United was not provided an allocation of tickets for the U.S. Open Cup final so D.C. fans had to wait until the exclusive 2-week window for Real Salt Lake season ticket holders expired before they could purchase seats for the game. That window closed on Sept. 3 so tickets are now available to D.C. fans and the general public.

On the injury front, United reports that both Chris Pontius (groin) and Taylor Kemp (planter fasciitis) have returned to full training.  Pontius has not played since July 7 and has appeared in just 15 of United’s 26 games this year. He has tallied 1 goal and 2 assists on the season.

D.C.’s USL PRO League affiliate, the Richmond Kickers, lost in the semifinal round of the league’s playoffs on Saturday. Andrew Dykstra, Conor Shanosky and Michael Seaton all saw regular time with the Kickers this year and Dykstra was named to the USL PRO All League First Team.

NEXT UP: September 8 - DC United vs. Chivas USA, Stub Hub Center, Carson, Calif. 9 p.m. EST, MLS Live     .


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Peter is a government relations professional in Washington, DC, and Los Angeles, CA. He has been a DC United season ticket holder since 1997 and has attended every MLS Cup except one – in 1998 when he was busy helping his boss get re-elected to Congress.