Ben Olsen, Chad Ashton. Photo: Tony Quinn

United’ season ends in New York after 1-0 loss

Harrison, N.J., November 9, 2015 – D.C. United’s season ended today very much in the style it has become accustomed to. Through much of 2015, United has put forth an honest, tough defensive effort backed by superior goalkeeping.

At the end of the day, as it was on this day and on most days this season, United had little to nothing to show in the attacking third of the field and their season ended in frustration with a 1-0 loss to New York Red Bulls yesterday afternoon at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey.

United’s mission was clear heading into this match trailing by 1 goal in the aggregate series. Keep Red Bull off the scoreboard and manage to get the goal that could get the match to extra time and perhaps penalty kicks to decide the winner.

Bradley Wright-Phillips put an end to that scenario when he scored in stoppage time to give Red Bull the lead and crush any hope United had of leveling the series. United’s shortcomings offensively in this series once again was in the forefront as they rarely tested Red Bull goalkeeper Luis Robles with a handful of half-chances and only two nondescript shots on goal, their only shots on goal through the two games.

Red Bull will now face the Columbus Crew in the Eastern Conference finals after the Crew defeated the Montreal Impact 3-1 after extra time yesterday. That series will start in two weeks as MLS will skip playing next weekend for the International break which sees the United States start their journey to Russia 2018 when they face St. Vincent and the Grenadines in St. Louis, Missouri.

As for United, this match typified the issues and struggles offensively the team had for most of the season. United scored only 9 goals in 18 total road matches in MLS this season and that lack of production once again forced Ben Olsen into a game plan that required his team to defend in numbers and limit Red Bull’s chances going forward.

That tactic worked for the most part but the Black-and-Red were unable to generate any quality scoring opportunities and they finally capitulated in stoppage time when United were forced to flood players forward. The series-clinching sequence began innocently enough with a routine clearance turned bad by captain Bobby Boswell. Boswell chested down a hopeful long ball easily enough but hesitated in booting the ball back up field and that allowed substitute Juan Veron to settle the ball and eventually center it to Wright-Phillips who easily evaded Bill Hamid and tapped the ball into an empty net as their most bitter rivals eliminated United from the playoffs for the second consecutive year.

United now will turn their attention to strengthening their roster ahead of the 2016 season and one thing is for sure, this team will most likely look very different to the one that was eliminated yesterday.



Dax and Perry

United fall 1-0 to Red Bull; Face uphill climb in 2nd leg at Red Bull Arena

Washington D.C., November 1, 2015 – The semi-final round of the Audi 2015 MLS Cup Playoffs began with two of the leagues most fierce rivals clashing at RFK Stadium on Sunday afternoon.

D.C. United and New York Red Bull have met three of the past four years in the semi-final round only adding fuel to the fire between the clubs.

That bitterness played itself out on the pitch tonight as the visitors from the North scored a deserved 1-0 win before 19, 525 disappointed fans at East Capitol Street.

Dax McCarty’s diving header behind United’s defense in the 72nd minute was the difference maker as Red Bull take the 1-0 aggregate lead back up I-95 to Red Bull Arena next Sunday night. Additionally, the road goal scored by Red Bull means that United must score next weekend or their season will be over.

That goal was special for Red Bull but it came just three minutes after the games most vital talking point. United midfielder Markus Halsti was savagely taken down by substitute Red Bull defender Ronald Zubar in the 69th minute. Everyone watching was thinking straight red card except for the one man that mattered – referee Fotis Bazakos. He only produced a yellow card after a circle of Red Bull players begged and pleaded for mercy. That mercy was granted to the bemusement of United head coach Ben Olsen and the entire bench of the Black-and-Red.

Nevertheless, it was  less than efficient performance for United who looked tired after their Sunday-Wednesday-Sunday journey. Olsen noted after the match that players like Chris Rolfe and Nick DeLeon just didn’t have the required energy to take on a full week rested Red Bull squad.

It definitely showed as United were fractured and inconsistent all game long and logged a paltry 55% passing completion percentage (normal MLS games range in the 70% percentile) in addition to producing 0 shots on goal through the entire match.

Obviously you can’t win MLS playoff matches with those numbers much less advance past a top team like Red Bull.

Both teams came out with energy to begin the match abut United started to dictate tempo as the first half wandered on. However, that final ball was lacking all afternoon long and Red Bull goalkeeper Luis Robles had precious little to do.

Bill Hamid came up big in the 33rd minute to deny Mike Grella from a close-in sharp angle, blocking the shot with his face to keep the game scoreless. United’s best opportunity came via a free kick when Steve Birnbaum’s redirected header across the face of goal just missed the onrushing Perry Kitchen right in front of Robles.

After the break the visitors started to gain their foothold as United started to tire. Bill Hamid stopped Grella again in the 58th minute with a diving save of Grella’s header. Seconds later Red Bull left back Kemar Lawrence lined a shot off the near post and out.

The game turned in Red Bull’s favor in the 72nd minute when Sacha Kjlestan’s curling free kick sailed over a thicket of players in United’s penalty area to Dax McCarty who was all alone inside the goal box. His diving header gave Hamid no chance and the all-important road goal for Red Bull.

Seconds after the restart from the goal, United had arguably their best chance to score when Fabian Espindola launched a left-footed rocket from 22 yards that narrowly missed the near post.

That was the best United could produce on the evening as they struggled all night long to deal with Red Bull’s three-man central midfield. United, due to an injury to Chris Pontius, were forced to shuffle the lineup and pushed Rolfe from a forward position to wide midfield with Alvaro Saborio manning his striker spot. United also had to deal with the suspension of their captain Bobby Boswell after their win midweek over the New England Revolution.

Rolfe and DeLeon spent the majority of the match in central midfield in an attempt to negate the effectiveness of the Red Bull trio of McCarty-Kjlestan and Felipe. That in turn made United way too narrow and were unable to use outside backs Taylor Kemp and Sean Franklin as outlets.

The solution is simple for United now. Because of the away goals rule, United can win the series if they win the game at Red Bull Arena by a 2-1 score or better. A 1-0 win for United is the only scoreline that would force the 30-minute extra time and ensuing penalty kick shootout, if necessary. A draw or a loss (obviously) would eliminate United from the playoffs.

Hamid Dives

United advance to Semi-finals after frenzied 2-1 win over the Revolution

Washington, D.C., October 29, 2015 – With the already rich playoff history between D.C. United and the New England Revolution at hand, was there any surprise that last night’s classic tilt would be any different?

D.C. United once again came from behind to snatch a 2-1 win over the Revs and advance to the semi-final round of the 2015 Audi MLS Cup Playoffs. United will find out later this evening whether top seed Red Bull or #2 seed Columbus will come to town on Sunday afternoon to begin their home-and-home total goals series.

Chris Pontius’ header at the death in the first half and Chris Rolfe’s redemption strike in the 83rd minute cancelled out Juan Agudelo’s stunning world-class bicycle kick goal in the 15th minute at soggy RFK Stadium. This game had it all. Shots off the crossbar, the post, brilliant saves from both Bill Hamid and Bobby Shuttleworth and of course, controversy from official Mark Geiger.

Geiger awarded a penalty kick to United in the 74th minute when an Alvaro Saborio cross into the area deflected off the arm of Revs midfielder Kelyn Rowe. Unfortunately the normally reliable Rolfe (4 for 4 this season up to this point) hit his PK attempt off the inside of the post and out. Geiger again would be the center of attention in stoppage time when he waved off a hand ball claim in United’s area when Jermaine Jones attempted to cross and the ball clearly hit the arm of United defender Sean Franklin. Jones went ballistic at the no-call and chased Geiger down and made considerable contact with Geiger who immediately ejected the U.S. International. The sequence brought to mind a similar incident at the end of United’s playoffs last season when Fabian Espindola made contact with an assistant referee and was red carded. Espindola was then given a 6-game ban from MLS for those actions. One would believe that Jones’ punishment should be similar.

The game itself started out fast and furious and never let up through the final whistle. Chris Rolfe had the games first opportunity in the 4th minute when he ghosted in alone on Shuttleworth only to see his shot expertly kick-saved. Then came the moment that MLS fans will talk about for years. In the 15th minute a well worked passing sequence ended on the right foot of Kevin Alston on the wing. His one-time cross curled away from the line of players in the box. Agudelo tracked it and cracked a bicycle-kick from 16 yards out that left Hamid with no chance. Arguably the best goal ever scored in an MLS playoff game and incidentally the second bicycle kick goal scored by Agudelo at RFK. His first came when he was with Red Bull in 2011.

United can thank Bill Hamid for keeping them in the match because he was forced into back-to-back saves on Rowe within a minute of each other to keep United’s hopes alive. United responded in kind and should have equalized in the 21st minute when Espindola missed an open goal after latching onto a rebound save from a Chris Rolfe shot. Rolfe also had a near miss in the 26th minute when he skinned Revs defender Andrew Farrell only to see his left-foot shot hit the crossbar from close range.

As the half closed United were starting to take over the tempo of the match and the Black-and-Red got the precious equalizer just seconds before the halftime whistle. Espindola drew a foul along side the left side of the penalty area and his ensuing free kick found Pontius at the penalty spot. Pontius had to lean back and his header was perfectly placed into the far side netting to level the match at 1-1.

After the break the visitors regained control of the match and while Hamid didn’t have to make any critical saves, the Revs were buzzing around United’s goal. The pace had slowed considerably from the frenetic first 45 minutes as now both teams existence in the playoffs were at stake. After the ruckus in the 84th minute and the missed PK by Rolfe, it was Rolfe who would step up to nab the game-winner in the 83rd minute thanks to some enterprising play from Nick DeLeon and Espindola. DeLeon, who had struggled throughout the match, got hold of a ball outside the area and managed to hold on long enough for Espindola to overlap him. DeLeon’s clever back-heel set Espindola free and his pin-point pass between three Revs defenders found Rolfe all alone at the top of the goal box for an easy tap-in that sent the 11, 554 rain-soaked fans into delirium.

Just seconds after the Geiger/Jones confrontation, Geiger blew the final whistle and D.C. United had advanced in another playoff tilt with the Revolution.

United will now await the winner of tonight’s Montreal vs TFC match in Montreal. If the Impact win, United will face Red Bulls on Sunday. If TFC wins, the Crew, fresh off their 5-0 beatdown of United this past Sunday, will come to town.


United a no-show in 5-0 drubbing in Columbus

Columbus, Ohio, October 26, 2015 – MLS had dubbed the final day of the 2015 regular season as “Decision Day” as all conference games would be played simultaneously.

Destruction Day

Demolition Day

Decapitation Day

Any of the above would have been a better description for D.C. United as they went paws up in a 5-0 loss in Columbus with the #2 seed in the East to play for. As it happened as all games came to a close in the East just after 7pm EST last night, only a draw would have given United that coveted #2 seed.

However, the shorthanded Crew had other ideas. Saddled with their two best players on the sideline due to yellow card accumulation (Kei Kamara and Federico Higuan) the home side Crew dominated from the opening kickoff by spreading United out and killing them on the flanks en route to their historic win. The loss was the worst for United since losing 5-0 in Kansas City in 1997.

Ethan Finley led the way with two goals and Jack McInerney, filling in for Kamara, chipped in a goal and an assist.

As a result of the loss, United dropped from second to fourth in the East and now will play a one-and-done match up this Wednesday night at RFK against the New England Revolution. If United manages to shake off one of the poorest efforts in recent memory and push past the Revs, Red Bull or Columbus will be waiting for them on the weekend. If Montreal beats Toronto FC on Wednesday (they beat TFC 2-1 last night to push ahead of United into 3rd place) then United would face Red Bull. United will face Columbus should TFC manage to beat Montreal in Montreal.

Either way, United has to show up on Wednesday against the Revs or their season is over much sooner than anyone anticipated.

Chris Pontius

United rout Fire and jump back into 2nd place in the Eastern Conference

Washington, D.C., October 18, 2015 – Just in the nick of time. Better now than never. Saving the best for last. D.C. United have regained their form and any of the aforementioned cliches would be more than appropriate.

Chris Pontius’s goal late in the first half got United on their way to an eventual 4-0 win over the hapless Chicago Fire and the result pushed United from fifth place to second place in the East with only next weeks game at Columbus left in the regular season. A win in Columbus locks up the 2nd seed (New York Red Bull clinched the top spot by virtue of their 4-1 win over Philadelphia this afternoon) for the Black-and Red. A draw would also work but it also would allow Toronto FC an opportunity to squeak into the second spot if they were to win their matchup against their Eastern Canadian rivals in Montreal next weekend.

All Eastern Conference games will start at 5pm next weekend so no team will know their destiny until their matches are played to the full 90 minutes.

As for today’s critical game, it was the first time this season that United had put forth a full 90-minute performance. Part of that had to do with the apathy on display from the visiting Fire who became the sixth team in MLS history to go an entire season without a win on the road (0-12-5). Most of it however had to do with the improved confidence of United as they were coming off their stoppage-time win over NYCFC over two weeks ago.

United pushed the pace from the opening whistle and for the first time in over three months United did not concede a first half goal, a certain bugaboo that has plagued the team seemingly all season long, particularly at RFK Stadium. After an enterprising but fruitless first 20 minutes for United, the visitors started to get into the match. However it was United that got on the board first thanks in part to great hustle from Chris Rolfe and eventually Chris Pontius.

Rolfe wiggled his way through a trio of Fire defenders about 40 yards from goal and was set to unleash Pontius on goal. Fire midfielder Razvan Cocis intervened and actually pushed the ball into the path of Pontius. Pontius, who has struggle all year to get back to full fitness from nagging injuries, burst through and rounded startled Fire goalkeeper Jon Busch and finished very well from an acute angle for his third goal of the season.

United were not off the hook just yet as Bill Hamid made a save in stoppage time to keep the game at 1-0. Hamid saved brilliantly from a Jeff Larentowicz free kick and then held his breath as the ensuing corner kick was volleyed inches wide by Cocis.

After the break it was only one team on the field United finally rewarded themselves after a season of one-goal wins and matches that seemed to drag on for eternity. Rolfe nearly doubled the advantage just minutes after the restart when Busch did well to parry his free kick away. The ensuing rebound eventually found its way to Markus Halsti but his goal bound shot was blocked by teammate Kofi Opare.

United finally did get the breathing room they desired in the 67 minute. After having success early in the season on corner kicks, it had been quite a while since United had scored from one and Bobby Boswell was the beneficiary of great service from Fabian Espindola as he flicked his corner to the far post where it easily nestled into the goal for his second goal of the season.

Espindola got on the scoreboard just four minutes later when his mostly intended cross redirected off of Fire defender Lovel Palmer and caught Busch out of position at the far post to make it 3-0 to United. The goal was Fabian’s fifth of the season.

United wrapped up their scoring in the 80th minute when substitute Alvaro Saborio redirected a deflected Sean Franklin shot into the goal for his seventh goal of the season and fourth with United. Saborio has scored in back-to-back games as a substitute and may have carved out an important role for United moving forward as a late-game difference maker.

Next up for United is the season-ending match in Columbus next Sunday at 5pm. Columbus will be without their top two star players as both Kei Kamara and Federico Higuan are both yellow card suspended for the match as they both picked up senseless yellows in their surprising 2-0 win in Toronto on Saturday afternoon.



Alvaro Saborio

Stoppage-time winner ends losing streak and sends D.C. United back to the playoffs

Washington, D.C., October 2, 2015 – Alvaro Saborio scored a 92nd minute game-winner to push D.C. United past visiting NYCFC 2-1 and into the playoffs for the second consecutive season in front of a gobsmacked season-high of over 21,ooo drenched fans at RFK Stadium.

Saborio had just missed an opportunity to put United ahead a few minutes earlier but more than made up for it with the game-winner, his third goal for the Black-and-Red since being acquired in July at the trade deadline. The win for United (14-12-6, 48 points) clinched their playoff spot and pushed the squad back into a tie with New York Red Bulls at the top of the Eastern Conference.  The much needed win also stopped a horrid six-game unbeaten run which saw United plummet down the Eastern Conference standings. Incredibly, it was the 8th win this season for United after giving up the opening goal.

As this was the first game of the weekend, United could fall back to fourth place if both New England (at Chicago) and Columbus (at Red Bull) manage to win their games. A tie or a loss from either side will see them stay below United with only two league games to play.

As has been the case over the past two months at RFK, things once again got off to a horrible start. Frank Lampard slotted home a rebound from a Bill Hamid save just 48 seconds into the game to stun the soaked crowd at RFK. In United’s last five league home matches, they have given up goals in the 1st, 2nd, 4th, 27th and 1st minute in each of those games. Even more amazing is that United has come back to win three of those games, including tonight’s match.

With the conditions getting steadily worse through the match, both teams managed to slog through the impediments of Mother Nature and it remained 1-0 heading into the break with neither team really taking the upper hand.

After the break however it was a different story and a different D.C. United. The Black-and-Red pushed the tempo from the jump and pushed NYCFC back into their own half for most of the second stanza. United thought it had scored the game-tying goal midway through the half when Fabian Espindola’s looping header met Chris Pontius at the back post. The UCSB product finished beautifully only to see the offside flag rule the goal out.

A few minutes later that same combination worked its magic again and this time the equalizer stood. Chris Pontius received a ball among a throng of NYCFC players but managed to weave his way around them for a blistering left-footed shot from 23 yards away. NYCFC goalkeeper Josh Saunders dove to his left and could only parry the ball right in front of goal. Espindola was quicker than the NYCFC defense and pushed the rebound into the goal for his fourth goal of the year.

Pontius very nearly gave United the lead just a few minutes later when his right-footed blast from 40 yards was well saved by Saunders and cleared out of danger before Saborio could pounce on the rebound.

Saborio should have given United the lead in the 90th minute when he was beautifully led to the penalty spot by Espindola only to see his weak left-footed shot saved by Saunders. However, just over a minute later Saborio would not miss his second opportunity. After a dazzling run through the rain-soaked pitch and most of NYCFC’s defense by Pontius, he was hauled down by defender Chris Wingert forty yards from goal. Wingert received a yellow card for his efforts and then up stepped Espindola to deliver the dagger blow.

The Argentine’s free kick floated over the wall and was miscleared by former United midfielder Andrew Jacobsen at the back post and fell gratefully to the foot of Saborio who poked the ball underneath Saunders for yet another come-from-behind win for United.

Up next for United is their last home match of the season against the Chicago Fire on Sunday October 18th at 2pm.


United’s winless streak hits six matches after 2-0 loss to Montreal

Montreal, Quebec, Canada, September 26, 2015 – D.C. United entered their match in Montreal on Saturday desperately needing a result to turn around their winless September in league play.

Two Didier Drogba highlight reel goals inside the first 11 minutes put rest to that wish as the Montreal Impact strolled to a comfortable 2-0 victory yesterday afternoon at Stade Sapudo. Once again United were the creators of their own demise when two critical defensive errors paved the path for both of Drogba’s sensational goals. The 37-year old striker has scored 7 goals in 6 league matches since signing with Montreal during the summer transfer window and an argument could be made that both goals on display were his best.

Montreal got on the score sheet in just the 4th minute after Taylor Kemp was whistled for a handball about 30 yards outside the area in front of goal. There was initial confusion on the play after Kemp badly misplayed a seemingly harmless clearance when it hit his left arm. Montreal striker Dominic Oduro picked up the loose ball and tried to round United goalkeeper Bill Hamid who successfully made the save and then cleared the ball out of play. However, referee Jair Maruffo called for the play to come back to the initial hand ball spot from Kemp. United felt undone as it seemed advantaged was played then taken back. After the match however it was confirmed that Maruffo had indeed blown the play dead at the time of the handball and was not going to allow the goal to stand had Oduro scored.

Drogba stepped up on the ensuing free kick and hit a masterful upper 90 shot that Hamid could only get his fingertips to as the ball ricocheted off the post and in for the early 1-0 lead. Perhaps the biggest sign of United’s continual problems during this season is the fact that the team has now given up an astonishing 10 goals this season inside the first five minutes of a game. No one in MLS is even close to United in that regard.

So, United is once again forced to play from behind and chase the match. Things got doubly worse just seven minutes later when Markus Halsti attempted a foolish back pass under heavy pressure from Montreal midfielder Nigel Reo-Coker. With teammates available in multiple directions to unload a simple pass, Halsti inexplicably tried to push the ball all the way back to Hamid in goal. The pass was criminally under hit and fell into the path of Drogba who only had United defender Steve Birnbaum to beat. Drogba easily juked Birnbaum out of his shorts just inside the penalty area and calmly lifted a shot over the onrushing Hamid for the 2-0 lead.

United should have cut the deficit in half just sixty seconds later but Chris Rolfe couldn’t control the rebound of a Fabian Espindola angled shot that was saved by Impact goalkeeper Evan Bush right into the path of Rolfe who was just four yards out in front of goal. The ball it Rolfe in the chest and was smothered by Bush before Rolfe could get a foot on it to poke it home. That was pretty much the extent of United’s danger on the evening as the Impact saw the remainder of the match out without much difficulty.

The loss for United keeps United in fourth place in the Eastern Conference but the only good news for the Black-and-Red on the weekend was that all three teams above United did not win either. However, United is in danger of dropping to fifth place as Toronto FC are now just two points adrift of United and they have a game in hand.

Up next for United is a critical home match on Friday night against NYCFC. If United can win that match it would clinch a playoff berth as well as eliminate NYCFC from the playoffs. United lost their only match with NYCFC so far 3-1 in New York City in August.


Slumping United fall to 4th in the East after 2-1 loss at home to Columbus

Washington, D.C., September 19, 2015 – The age-old sports cliche is that you want to be playing your best as the playoffs approach. Well, D.C. United is doing anything but playing their best as the Black-and-Red drop their fourth match in five games tonight by a 2-1 score to visiting Columbus Crew SC.

Ethan Finlay and Kai Kamara staked Columbus to a 2-0 lead with goals on either side of halftime before Chris Rolfe cut the deficit to 2-1 with a penalty kick goal in the 68th minute. United should have leveled the match 84th minute but Alvaro Saborio’s equalizer was incorrectly ruled out by the far side assistant referee. Such is the way things go when you’re not playing your best soccer.

By virtue of the win, Columbus jumps into first place in the Eastern Conference while sending United tumbling down to fourth place with a tricky road match in Montreal next Saturday afternoon at 5pm. United had held the lead in the Eastern Conference for nearly fourth months until they were passed by New York Red Bull last weekend. A sequence of wins and draws by almost every team in the East combined with United’s five-game winless streak has seen United plummet in the standings. More than the obvious nosedive in the standings is the worrisome play of United.

Ironically, tonight’s match was “the best the team has looked in two months” according to head coach Ben Olsen after the match but it was a continuation of a trend of poor soccer that has put United in a position to scramble to secure a playoff spot. A win tonight would have clinched a playoff berth for United, but even with that missed opportunity it’s hard to see this current form of United doing any damage in the playoffs considering how ineffective they have been the past month and a half.

Frustration continued to mount throughout the match as the Crew deservedly took the lead through Ethan Finlay in the 27th minute. Once again poor defending led to the opening goal as Sean Franklin switched off for a second and failed to deal with a missed clearance and he allowed Tyson Wahl to bring down the ball and poke a cross into the goal mouth where Finlay beat Taylor Kemp to the ball and turned him before firing his shot over Bill Hamid from four yards out.

United twice failed to score on golden opportunities and Saborio was the culprit on both occasions. His break away after stripping Tony Tchani of the ball 30 yards from goal should have given United the early lead but he fired his shot right into the body of prone Columbus goalkeeper Steve Clark. After the visitors had taken the lead Saborio had another chance to equalize when he ran through the heart of the Crew defense only to see his angled shot a bit rushed and pushed to the left of the far side post as Clark was closing down on him.

After the break the Crew doubled their lead through MLS’ leading goal scorer in Kamara in very similar circumstances to Saborio’s first attempt at goal. Tony Tchani burned sent an inch-perfect pass in behind United defender Steve Birnbaum where it met Kamara in stride. Birnbaum was guilty of trying to read the pass from Tchani and overcommited to the outside as Tchani’s pass went inside. Kamara, unlike Saborio, slipped his shot just inside the near post as Hamid was closing ranks on him. The goal for Kamara is his 21st of the season.

United did cut into the lead in the 68th minute after Sean Franklin’s attempted cross into the penalty area was knocked down by the arm of Crew defender Chris Klute. Rolfe stepped up and converted his third PK in three attempts this season despite Clark getting a solid hand to the shot bound for the upper left corner of the goal. For Rolfe, it was his 10th goal of the season and a personal season-high for the veteran midfielder who previously scored 9 goals twice for the Chicago Fire early in his MLS career.

While United looks to their match next weekend against Montreal, minus Perry Kitchen who has to serve a yellow card suspension, they first have to travel to Montego Bay in Jamaica to wrap up group play in the Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League on Tuesday evening. United have already clinched advancement out of the group and no doubt Ben Olsen will leave most, if not all of his starters back in D.C. to rest for the big game in Canada next Saturday.

Conor Doyle celebrates his goal against the visiting fire with DC United mid fielder Fabian Espindola

Washington, D.C., September 15, 2015 – D.C. United only needed a draw last night to clinch their Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League Group H advancement and did it one better with a comfortable 2-0 win over Arabe Unido of Panama last night at RFK Stadium.

Conor Doyle and Jared Jeffrey notched first-half goals to ease United into the knockout stages of the tournament next February. United has won their group for the second consecutive year and did it in the same fashion with head coach Ben Olsen using almost exclusively reserves through all of their group matches.

United flipped the script of recent matches at RFK by scoring first through Conor Doyle just 36 seconds into the match. The sequence began when central defender Steve Birnbaum (the only First X1 player to start) waltzed through the middle of Arabe Unido’s central midfield and found Chris Pontius on the left wing. Pontius then whipped in a left-footed cross intended for Jairo Arrieta but found it’s way to Doyle on the far post where he one-timed his shot back against the grain for the early lead.

United continued their comfortable tempo and doubled the lead in the 22nd minute when Jared Jeffrey got on the end of a Facundo Coria corner kick and headed home under no pressure from six yards away.

United continued to keep the visitors at bay and rightfully should have had at least one penalty shout early in the second half. Defender Luke Mishu was hauled down in the box rather clearly but the claim was ignored by ref from Guyana and then just two minutes later Coria was taken down as well but no call came forth.

Arabe Unido did have two very good chances of their own in the second half only to see the shots clang off the crossbar. First up was a mammoth free kick from 35 yards by Renan Addles in the 52nd minute that rocketed off the crossbar and five minutes later Abdiel Macia’s close-range effort hit the crossbar before going over after a poor defensive clearance from United.

United had two more good chances to improve their goal differential (and in turn improve their potential top-seeding for the quarterfinals) but Coria’s fine solo bid was well saved by the Arabe Unido goalkeeper as well as Doyle’s stoppage time bid as well.

United now only have their last Group H match left to play next Tuesday night in Jamaica against Montego Bay. As Olsen has done through this competition, he will most likely send a skeleton crew of reserves for the match.

Meanwhile, United will now turn their attention to a critical match at RFK on Saturday when they take on Columbus Crew SC. Columbus trails United by a single point as both teams have just five league matches to go.

United lost the lead in the Eastern Conference to New York Red Bull as a result of last weeks matches after having the lead for nearly four months of the season. A scenario does exist that if United loses to Columbus on Saturday, the Black-and-Red could potentially drop to fourth place in the East, if results go against them this week. Chief among those matches is a Red Bull/NE Revolution match up tonight at Foxborough. A draw between these teams would be the best result for United heading into their match up with the Crew.


Birnbaum’s late header salvages United effort in 1-1 draw in Colorado

Commerce City, Colorado, September 12, 2015 – D.C. United scored in the 87th minute to salvage a poor performance and capture a valuable point in their 1-1 draw with the Colorado Rapids last night at Dicks Sporting Goods Park.

Steve Birnbaum’s towering header over the Rapids defense from a Fabian Espindola cross saved yet another unimaginative performance from United and helped to prevent a four-game losing streak. The point for United pushed them back into a tie with New York Red Bulls (45 point apiece – however United are behind via head-to-head and also have played three more games then Red Bull) and just ahead of the Columbus Crew SC 44 points).

With 12 days off between tonight’s match and the ugly 3-0 loss at Red Bull, it was expected that United would come out with a decidedly different attitude and tactical approach but it was more of the same that we have seen during United’s recent stretch of poor play. Putting numbers behind the ball, poor transition from defense to offense, senseless giveaways of the ball all over the field and no ability of the forwards to hold the ball to bring the midfield into play.

So it wasn’t exactly shocking when the Rapids took the lead in the 28th minute on a goal that has typified United’s recent frustrations. Colorado had a free kick sent into the penalty area that initially popped straight up into the air at the top of the box with no one on either team really tracking the ball. It eventually found the left foot of Bobby Burling who simply put a hopeful left-footed swing on the ball and it managed to find it’s way through a thicket of players and in off the far post for the 1-o lead.

Both teams were struggling to put any offense together as both teams spent the majority of the game taking turns turning the ball over to one another. However the home side had the lead and it was up to United to change the tone of the match.

With their backs against the wall and staring straight into a four-game losing streak United finally started to put together some cohesive play to at least threaten the Rapids. United’s best chance prior to the goal was when Chris Rolfe fed a pass to Espindola in the area that was a touch too heavy as Rapids goalkeeper Clint Irwin just beat Fabi to the ball.

United did finally get the point they were looking for thanks to the superior athletic ability of Birnbaum. Taylor Kemp slipped his free kick down the left flank to Espindola who then whipped in a left-footed cross to the far post where Birnbaum rose at least a foot above a Rapids defender to power his header past Irwin who did manage to get a hand to the shot before it found it’s way into the goal.

With a sense of relief of scoring such an important goal despite another awful performance flowing through the team, United were almost burned for relaxing when the Rapids should have nabbed the game-winner in stoppage time. United once again were second-best to a loose ball in the penalty area when Burling found Lucas Pittanari wide-open at the penalty spot.

With no one but Hamid in his way, the Argentine midfielder managed to whiff completely on the ball. The Rapids stayed with the play and still managed a shot towards goal but Hamid was there to make the game-saving play and keep the draw intact..

Up next for United in MLS is a home game against the surging Crew at RFK Stadium next Saturday night. Columbus trails United by just one point in the standings with Columbus with a game in hand.

Before that however United will host Arabe Unido on Tuesday night in CONCACAF Champions League play. A win will see United advance to the knockout stages next February. No doubt Olsen will continue to put out a reserve side for the match as the reserves have taken both of their prior matches in Group H play. United defeated Arabe Unido 1-0 in Panama City last month on an 85th minute goal by rookie Miguel Aguilar who leads the team in scoring in the competition with two goals.