The narrative going through the first month or so of D.C. United’s 2015 MLS campaign was who was going to score goals with the extended absences of Fabian Espindola (11 goals in 2014), Luis Silva (11 goals) and Eddie Johnson (7 goals).
This afternoon in their road opener at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey, goals certainly were absent in their 2-0 loss to New York Red Bulls but it was the defensive mistakes that brought about both goals as well as being second-best all afternoon to their bitter rivals. Red Bull were sporting a team minus iconic players Thierry Henry and Tim Cahill but that seemed to matter very little as the rebuilt side took it to DC from the opening kickoff.
Red Bulls constant pressure paid off in the 25th minute when a seemingly harmless long ball from Dax McCarty was horribly misplayed by United’s central defensive tandem of Steve Birnbaum and Bobby Boswell. Too much space was allowed between United’s defensive pillars and Bradley Wright-Phillips exploited Birnbaum and Boswell. Wright-Phillips first touch allowed both United defenders to recover in time but both were unable to prevent MLS’ reigning goal scoring King to fire the ball low past Bill Hamid for the 1-0 lead.
United, snapped to attention by the goal, finally started to play more effectively and nearly tied the match just a few minutes later. Chris Rolfe’s angled shot was well saved by Red Bull goalkeeper Luis Robles and was United’s best opportunity at the time. Red Bull stayed solid in defense limiting United to very few chances offensively as Ben Olsen’s squad seemed slow to react and were second-best to every loose ball. Throw in the fact that United simply couldn’t hold extended possession under Red Bulls pressure and it wasn’t exactly what Olsen had in mind going into the match.
After the break, United started to compose themselves much better and had the run of play. However, against the run of play Red Bull doubled their lead in the 71st minute through another inattentive defensive mistake. Davy Arnaud got caught in possession and was stripped of the ball that set off a Red Bull 4v2 advantage towards United’s goal. Wright-Phillips slotted the ball to his right where Lloyd Sam took an angled run at Hamid. The Englishman blasted a shot that beat Hamid at the near post and for all intents and purposes put the match out of reach as poorly as United were playing.
To United’s credit they did not pack up and with better finishing could have made a match of it. Chris Rolfe was once again denied by Robles, this time in the 77th minute with a quick point-blank reaction save from a well-placed Taylor Kemp cross. United’s best chance to score on the night came in stoppage time when Davy Arnaud was taken down in the area and Chris Pontius managed to balloon his shot well over the crossbar, summing the team performance and lack of confidence with Pontius at the moment.
Things don’t get any easier folks as the Los Angeles Galaxy come to town next weekend. Espindola and Silva can’t come back quick enough..