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.