On the heels of a perfect July for D.C. United (4 wins, no losses) and seemingly impossible thoughts of challenging for the Supporters Shield , United has come back down to Earth with a mighty thud after poor back-to-back performances on the road in Houston and Sandy, Utah.
United has yet to win in either Houston (Robertson Stadium or BBVA Compass Stadium) or in Sandy (Rio Tinto Stadium) in league play, although United did pull off an improbable 1-0 U.S. Open Cup final last October at Rio Tinto.
Point being is that the optimism that had been building all season for United’s incredible turnaround from the single-worst MLS season in the history of MLS last year seems to have taken a bit of a hit after this tough two-week trip out West.
First off was the stoppage-time goal allowed by United in Houston to deny United a badly needed point. That disappointment was followed by a thorough 3-0 thrashing at the hands of Real Salt Lake this past Saturday night. Bill Hamid had three goals fly by him before he could even register a save for crying out loud.
Granted, flat performances like the one this past weekend have been few and far between this season, especially when they seemed to occur on a week-to-week basis just 12 months ago. However the wounds are still fresh from that craptacular season in 2013 and with it follows some worry about the rest of the month for United.
Before we take a look at the murderers row of matches still awaiting United in August, we have to objectively look back at first 20 games prior to these last two losses.
Home Cooking – 12 of United’s first 20 matches this season came at RFK Stadium. For a team coming off a disastrous 2013, this was certainly welcome news to Ben Olsen and his staff when the 2014 schedule was announced.
Full credit goes to United for taking 24 out of 36 available points in that span (7 wins, 2 losses and 3 draws) but it only leaves United with 5 of their remaining 14 matches at RFK
Road Good/Road Bad – To be fair, United and Sporting KC were the only teams in MLS with winning road records before the two recent road losses. A closer look at the schedule see’s only one win against a team on the road in a current playoff position (2-1 win in Toronto on July 5th) and overall (including home games) only 5 wins out of their 11 have come from teams currently in a playoff position.
The Future – United does have a rare home game in August up next against the reeling Colorado Rapids this Sunday night at RFK. This is a MUST WIN considering what is coming down the pike.
Now the tough part – After hosting Waterhouse FC on Wednesday, August 20th at RFK to open United’s CONCACAF Champions league group play, the Black-and-Red’s next two road matches are trips to Sporting KC on August 23rd and the Los Angeles Galaxy on August 27th (- that’s about as hard a Saturday-Wednesday road trip any team can take – not exactly places teams go to break road losing streaks)
To wrap up an almost impossible month of play with an admittedly thin squad, United will host bitter rivals New York Red Bulls on national television on Sunday, July 31st at 3pm.
How will United look after August is done? – Tough to say. I think it’s important to remember that all teams in MLS struggle at times and United are no different in that regard. In combination with a thin squad and logging a ton or road miles to places where this team traditionally does not fare well, it’s hard to imagine United being very competitive in those matches.
However, the well-earned gift of 37 points in the table currently affords them some losses. I can only really see Toronto FC overtaking United by months end, maybe New York too, but they too have a tough upcoming month, as do most teams in MLS.
It just seems looking in from the outside that United has a bit too much on their plate and getting off to a terrible start with those two losses have not helped the collective psyche of the team. Sunday’s match against Colorado at home is critical in trying to alleviate the pressure of the upcoming games. If United can manage a win against Colorado and a win against Waterhouse FC (not a given considering they went to Panama and beat Tauro FC 2-1 last week), then maybe they can go into that road trap of KC/LA with more confidence than I am currently willing to afford them.
If they lose/draw to Colorado, then I gather it will be a brutal few weeks for D.C. United and their faithful following..