Posts

United begins offseason housecleaning – Inside and Out

The bloodletting has begun. Not even a week after D.C. United closed what arguably will be the worst single-season by an MLS team in it’s 17-year history, the Black-and-Red have made moves on and off the field that have sent shockwaves through the United community.

The on-field moves made by United yesterday included the declining of team options on Dwayne De Rosario, Lionard Pajoy, Carlos Ruiz and Marcelo Saragosa. None of these moves comes as a surprise with the exception of De Rosario, team captain for most of his time on the field this season. While DeRo came up way short in terms of production on the field, it was a bit of a surprise that the team didn’t at least talk through the option of re-signing DeRo at a much lower rate than his reported $600,000 salary from this past season. Not coincidentally, all four of the players let go yesterday were all over 30 years of age. John Thorrington and Lewis Neal are the only players now on United’s books that are over 30 years old and both will most likely be retained in the offseason.

As for the others, it was a no-brainer as Pajoy, Ruiz and Saragosa were shells of their former selves. Some would argue differently for Pajoy’s case as he was clearly the fans and media’s #1 whipping boy for the failures of the 2013 edition of United. Pajoy was unconvincing pretty much during his entire run with United, but for some reason head coach Ben Olsen loved his workrate. It’s funny, I remember a conversation during an early season match for United that was televised on ESPN when play-by-play man Adrian Healey was mentioning a conversation he had with Olsen in regards to Pajoy when he said “Olsen really likes his high workrate”. Immediately color commentator Taylor Twellman shot back “well I prefer my forwards to score goals.”  That pretty much sums up everyones opinion on Pajoy and it really seemed a mystery why Olsen decided to hitch his wagon to him.

Ruiz was a shot in the dark that simply didn’t pan out. There were expectations that Ruiz’ experience would help United’s admittedly young striking corp (aside from Pajoy) but it never materialized and he became an afterthought for Olsen during the summer. Ruiz’ only contribution was a goal against Chivas de Guadalajara in an exhibition match midseason. After that Ruiz was a persona non grata once the on-loan addition of Conor Doyle came to be.

Imagine how Ruiz’ and United’s fortunes may have changed had Ruiz finished that sitter late against Real Salt Lake in the 2nd match of the season. Who knows? Maybe if Ruiz buries that chance, both he and United don’t begin a season-long funk in front of goal. Now of course it’s ridiculous to heap the blame of an entire season’s worth of ineptitude on the feet of Ruiz and a shot he buries 9 out of 10 times, but it’s not too much of a stretch to imagine that a burst of confidence from that finish might have spurred United to a better outlook on the season rather than what became the customary “here we go again” scenario that unfolded too many times to count during the season when chances came begging that weren’t put away.

As for Saragosa, he was a solid peice of the late-season puzzle for United last year in the wake of the DeRo injury that put him out of the last 9 league matches (of which United went 7-0-2 to end the season). Saragosa however has always been a limited player aside from locking down the middle of the park and his injuries this season and subsequent unavailability made this an easy decision for the front office staff.

Now, speaking of the front office..

On Tuesday the team also announced that Doug Hicks (Cheif Marketing Officer), Aprile Pritchet (Community Relations – also in charge of United for DC charity) and Sarah Lerner (Communications Manager) were all let go. This news sent shockwaves through the media and Twitter was ablaze for about 5 hours after the late-afternoon announcement.

Hicks had been with the club for 13 seasons and was everpresent for any and all major announcements and was a true pro in his role as Communications Director for most of his time with United. On a personal level, I’ve dealt with Doug for over 10 years and he has been more than meets the eye on almost every occasion. Without knowing the inner workings of United, it seems on the face of things a terrible move by the ownership group. On the heels of major front office moves last season, which included the letting go of Communications Manager Kyle Sheldon, it makes you wonder what the Hell is going on over at United.

On the one hand, I understand if new onwnership comes in and wants to input their own personnel, that’s their prerogative as owners and truth be told, the front office has not been up to snuff from previous seasons. Season ticket sales are down and United just came off their worst attendance average in club history in just over 13,000 per game. Heads are gonna roll in situations like this but it doesn’t mean that I can’t disagree with them from the outside looking in. That’s my prerogative.

As for Aprile Pritchet and Sarah Lerner, not unlike my experiences with Doug, they have been very open and receptive to any of my minimal needs. It just doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense why good people are losing their jobs. Sarah was only with the team for two years but Apriel had been there a very long time as well. I wish all three of them good fortune in the future and hope to cross paths with them again one day.

In the end, United in two years have basically jettisoned every person I deal with from a media standpoint and it just doesn’t seem right to me. However, it’s not my decision and I will just have to buck up like every other media member who is as saddened as I am to see these good people let go.

One can only hope that their replacements are equally as accessible and professional as Doug, Aprile and Sarah were.

Getting back to the on the field product, it seems pretty clear that Olsen and his staff are cutting what they see as dead weight. This doesn’t mean that the contributions from the four aforementioned players won’t be forgotten anytime soon. DeRo after all did win an MLS MVP trophy and almost single-handidly carried United to a playoff berth in 2011. I think in many ways, everyone with a vested interest in United was hoping to see something similar from him this season after the team made a number of offseason moves that saw quite a few goals leave the team. DeRo obviously wasn’t up to the task and paying him a Designated Player salary just wasn’t sound business. Additionally, I think DeRo’s time had come. From the two-game suspension at the beginning of the season to the pouting about not starting matches when clearly his form was way off, he just wasn’t giving this team what it needed most, veteran leadership.

DeRo can still play in this league, just not for a team like United who is in major flux. DeRo would be a good addition to a veteran team next season, provided he’s okay with a reduced workload that also comes with a slight reduction in salary. Unfortunately, that is the climate for veteran players in MLS these days not named Thierry Henry, Tim Cahill or Robbie Keane.

The much maligned Lionard Pajoy actually did manage to carve out a few memorable moments in his brief time with United. He scored the lone goal in a 1-0 away win over Philadelphia during that streak late last season that kept United in the hunt for a top playoff seed. He also scored the game-tying goal in Chicago on the last day of the season that clinched 2nd place for United in the East. Had that goal not been scored, United would have been in the play-in game against Houston. I think we all know what would have happened had that panned out. And last but not least, he helped set up the series-winning goal against Red Bull last November that got United to the Eastern Conference final.

Obviously Saragosa and Ruiz’ contributions had much less impact than what DeRo and Pajoy had done during their time with United but that doesn’t mean we don’t appreciate the effort they put forth for United. These are tough decisions for teams but at the end of the day, they were the right moves to make going forward.

United still has a trip to Indonesia on the books in December and Technical Director Dave Kasper had said recently that the club was planning on taking a 22-man squad on the trip. Well, the releasing of these four players makes that decision that much easier.

All in all, I still think this team has a lot more moves up their sleeve. Let’s hope they make the right ones this time as clearly last season they did not on many fronts..

United vs Red Bull: Missed PK critical in United’s 2-1 loss in New York

A nightmare season for D.C. United continued on it’s inevitable path as Dwayne De Rosario’s missed penalty summed up United’s season in a nutshell in their 2-1 loss against bitter rivals New York Red Bull at Red Bull Arena tonight.

With Red Bull leading 2-1 in the 72nd minute, Red Bull defender Ibrahim Sakagya was sent off after denying a goal scoring opportunity for De Rosario who’s hustle forced the burly defender to grab De Rosario as he was attempting to shoot on goal.

De Rosario’s penalty was struck hard but saved by Luis Robles’ diving effort to sink United even further in despair. United, playing with a man advantage for the first time all season long could not find the equalizer as United lost their 18th match of the season.

Lloyd Sam and Tim Cahill scored first-half goals sandwiched around Nick DeLeon’s fantastic solo effort and first goal of the season for United.

After the break United had their chances to equalize but the crossbar kept Luis Silva’s header out in the 53rd minute and Lewis Neal’s strike from distance was parried away by Robles just a few minutes later to keep the slender advantage for the home side.

Then came the game’s turning point. De Rosario was applying pressure on Sakagya who decided to try and body De Rosario off the ball instead of making a simple clearance. Perhaps looking for a foul from the referee, Sakagya soon learned it wasn’t coming and had no choice but to haul down United’s captain.

De Rosario stepped up and sent his shot to the right of Robles who stutter-stepped and then leaped to his right to parry away United’s best chance to level the match. The missed opportunity obviously sucked a lot of energy out of an active United team but they did press on and created a few half-chances, the best of which fell to the foot of substitute Collin Martin in stoppage time but his shot was hurried and well wide of the goal.

United, once again, fell behind early in the match on what can be described as a fluke goal. Lloyd Sam gathered a ball just seconds after a clear penalty against Dejan Jakovic on Tim Cahill was missed by the referee but perhaps kharmic justice was served as Sam’s floated ball inched over Bill Hamid in goal. Hamid could have been positioned a bit better considering the sharp angle that Sam had and in all honesty is was a cross attempt that floated into the far side of the goal.

United did equalize quite impressively when De Rosario switched fields and found DeLeon all alone deep in the penalty area. With work still to do to get off a shot, DeLeon cut back on Red Bull debutant left-back David Carney and sent a left-footed shot past Robles just inside the left post for his first goal of the season.

Two minutes later however Red Bull would score the game-winner on more casual defending from United. Jakovic was turned around twice by Red Bull midfielder Johnny Steele and unable to apply pressure to the predictable left-footed cross from Steele. The ball floated into the area to the one player United didn’t want it to go to in Tim Cahill. Daniel Woolard did his best but one of the worlds most deadliest men in the air was no match as his shot got by Hamid.

United now will turn their attention to their next league game next Saturday night in Carson, California as they take on Chivas USA at the Stub Hub Center. United will be without Jakovic, De Rosario and Kyle Porter as they have all been called up for Canada’s friendly with Spain next weekend.

U.S. Open Cup Semifinal – United vs Chicago: United on their way to another Cup final with 2-0 win over Fire

D.C. United has endured a nightmare season. Can’t score goals much less create many chances and defensive blunders have reared their ugly head on more than one occasion.

Yet the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup has been an oasis for the side as United stunned the Chicago Fire 2-0 tonight at Toyota Park in Bridgeview, Illinois to reach the clubs fifth Open Cup final. United will play Real Salt Lake on October 1st after their 2-1 win over the Portland Timbers late this evening. RSL will be playing in their first ever U.S. Open Cup final.

Dwayne De Rosario scored in the 44th minute, his fifth goal in the past three Open Cup matches, and Nick DeLeon scored in the 48th to give United all they would need against a clearly lethargic Fire team that just three weeks ago had handed United an embarrassing 4-1 defeat at Toyota Park.

After a very sloppy start to the match, United started to gain control of possession, conceding a few half-chances to the Fire that were easily handled by goalkeeper Joe Willis. With the first half winding down, it was Chicago’s goalkeeper Sean Johnson who couldn’t handle a routine clearance and provided the Black-and-Red with their opportunity to open the scoring.

Nick DeLeon’s shot from 25-yards straight out from goal was deflected and looping towards Johnson. Luis Silva took advantage of Chicago’s sleepy defense and put up a challenge to Johnson who flubbed his catch attempt under the pressure of Silva. De Rosario pounced on the loose ball and took a touch to his left to avoid the scrambling goalkeeper. De Rosario easily put the ball into the far side netting to send United into the locker room with a 1-0 lead.

After the break United came out like a house on fire and doubled their lead in the 48th minute. Nick DeLeon was slipped a beautiful pass at the top of the penalty area and the second-year man from Louisville turned to fire on goal. His shot appeared to take a deflection off of midfielder Joel Lindpere and the misdirection into the near side netting easily beat Johnson who was already committed to a far post shot.

Unlike most of their MLS campaign, United saw the match out with not too much difficulty and nearly took a 3-0 lead in the 60th minute when Conor Doyle, subbed on for an injured Luis Silva, split two Fire defenders to a bouncing ball deftly chipped by De Rosario and ripped a one-time rocket that forced a wonderful diving save from Johnson.

At the other end of the pitch, Joe Willis and his defense put out a few nervy fires with Perry Kitchen and James Riley both making goal line saves to help preserve the shutout and send United to another appearance in the U.S. Open Cup Final.

In a season that has gone terribly wrong, United can hopefully draw strength from this Cup run and look to turn around what has quickly become an historic season for all the wrong reasons.

U.S. Open Cup: United roll to semi-finals with 3-1 win over New England

D.C. United captain Dwayne De Rosario hasn’t had the best of seasons so far in 2013, at least in Major League Soccer. Get him in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup tournament and we’re talking something completely different.

De Rosario scored the game-winning goal in United’s 3-1 win this evening over the visiting New England Revolution in the quarterfinal round of the U.S. Open Cup at the SoccerPlex in Germantown, Maryland. De Rosario (four goals in his past two Open Cup appearances) and Chris Pontius (goal and assist tonight), teamed on the front line for the first time this season, both were instrumental in leading the suddenly resurgent Black-and-Red to an impressive victory over one of MLS’ better squads in the past six weeks.

United, coming off their first league win this past weekend over San Jose, carried that confidence into the first half of play and dominated their rivals to the Northeast by putting 5 shots on goalkeeper Matt Reis to New England’s one on United keeper Joe Willis. Chris Pontius breached the 0-0 deadlock in the 41st minute with a well-taken shot off a failed Revolution clearance just minutes after scuffing a breakaway attempt on Reis.

The Revolution came out in the second half with a bit more purpose and leveled the match in the 52nd minute with a little help from Joe Willis. Juan Toja’s free-kick from 25 yards was tipped off the crossbar by Willis and the rebound hit off the back of Willis and rolled helplessly into the net. Toja got credit for the goal but by strict soccer laws, it should have been an own-goal against Willis.

United was rocked momentarily by the equalizer but Pontius and DeRo paired up for the game-winner in the 69th minute. Pontius whipped in a corner kick to the back post and De Rosario leaped high above a Revolution defender and sent his header looping over Reis and off the underside of the crossbar into the far side of the goal.

Revolution substitute Juan Agudelo nearly evened the match in the 85th minute when his run across the top of the penalty area and resulting left-footed drive pinged off the inside of the far post before United’s scrambling defense cleared the ball to safety. With the Revolution pushing players forward, United substitute Lionard Pajoy got behind the Revolution defense deep along the right sideline and was heading square towards the goal when Revolution defender Goncalves dragged him down. Pajoy took the resulting penalty kick and shot right down the middle as Reis seemingly dove out of the way of the shot.

With the win, United will now travel to the Windy City on August 7th to take on the Chicago Fire, 5-1 winners over Orlando City FC tonight in Orlando, Florida.

Next up for United is a home match against the Vancouver Whitecaps on Saturday night at 7pm before heading out on a three-game road trip through Seattle, Colorado and then Chicago.

U.S. Open Cup – United vs Philadelphia: United breaks out of scoring slump in 3-1 win over Union

Dwayne De Rosario scored all three goals to help lead D.C. United past the Philadelphia Union 3-1 tonight in their 4th Round match up in the 100th edition of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup at the Maryland SoccerPlex in Germantown. With the victory United now moves on to a match up with the New England Revolution in the 5th Round of the Open Cup to be played on June 26th at the SoccerPlex. New England eliminated fellow MLS side New York Red Bulls by a 4-2 scoreline in Boston, Massachusetts tonight.

United has struggled mightily this season in scoring goals and tonight they got a breakout performance from their newly reinstated captain De Rosario. Even though the victory is in a separate competition from the MLS regular season, the win has to have done wonders for the fragile psyche of a struggling United team that is currently on a 12-game winless run in MLS play, scoring only 6 goals through 14 matches on the year.

United and the Union have quickly become rivals and their matches through their short history of three years have had a tone of physical play. Tonight was no different as the play was chippy and physical for the entirety of the match.

United took the lead in the 24th minute thanks in part to a violent collision between Union defender Amobi Okugo and United midfielder at the top of the penalty area in front of the Union goal. Both players met trying to control the ball but the resulting convergence popped the ball loose and into the path of a grateful De Rosario who one-timed a left-footed curler past the outstretched arms of Union goalkeeper Zac MacMath.

The goal gave United their first lead over any opponent in over three months of play. That was not a typo. Three months of play.

The physical play continued throughout the remainder of the half and Pontius often was the target of some vicious play from the Union defense. Just a few minutes after the opening goal, Pontius took an elbow to the head from Sheanon Williams during a 50/50 challenge that dropped United’s influential midfielder. In stoppage time of the first half, Pontius again was a victim of another hard tackle. This time Okugo hip-checked Pontius to the ground as Pontius was running full speed at the retreating Union defense.

Head coach Ben Olsen had seen enough and sat Pontius down on the bench and prepared Sainey Nyassi as his replacement partly as a precautionary measure to Pontius who appeared dazed from a first half of rough treatment. Pontius seemed fine after the match and Olsen declined to go into detail about his condition only to mention that “he still doesn’t look all there” during a brief chat after the match.

Both teams were forced to scramble defensively as a breakneck pace broke out in the first 10 minutes of the second half. United seemed to gain control back of the match and doubled their advantage in the 75th minute thanks in part to a dreadful defensive mistake. The Union defense badly cleared a ball out of the final third and right into the path of United second-half substitute Lionard Pajoy. The former Union forward took advantage of the gift and darted directly towards goal. As the retreating Union defense closed in on Pajoy, he slipped a pass right into the path of De Rosario who broke in alone on goal. MacMath and Union defender Raymon Gaddis tried to poke the ball away from United’s captain but he easily slipped past both players and slotted the ball into the vacated net.

United’s first two-goal lead of any kind this season was short-lived. Less than a minute later, a mistake by United’s defense gifted Philadelphia back into the match. Nick DeLeon, forced into an emergency right back role due to an injury to Ethan White, badly misplayed a ball in United’s penalty area and the resulting poor touch made it onto the foot of MLS’ current goal scoring leader Jack McInerny who’s right footed shot easily beat goalkeeper Joe Willis to the far post.

With the Union frantically pushing forward for an equalizer, even more horrific defending gifted De Rosario his third goal and United the win in the 85th minute. MacMatch came about 20 yards out of the penalty area to clean up a loose ball and passed it to Union defender Jeff Parke. Somehow the veteran central defender allowed the ball to go right through him and United’s captain pounced on the opportunity and sent a one-time shot from about 40 yards around the stunned defender and into the wide-open goal.

With this win, hopefully the seldom seen confidence gained from this victory will translate to league success at the weekend when United host fellow Eastern Conference doormat Toronto FC at RFK Stadium on Saturday night. The match starts at 7pm and will be shown live on CSN.

United vs FC Dallas: Losing streak reaches record seven games as United fall 2-1 in Dallas

While the effort was better for D.C. United the result was the same. Another loss, this time to 2-1 to FC Dallas at FC Dallas Stadium tonight in Frisco, Texas.

The loss for United, their seventh straight, has now established a new team record in a season that is now quickly evaporating. Je-Vaughn Watsons chested ball in the 77th minute was the game-winner for FC Dallas as United once again gives up a goal on a set piece. United (1-8-1) has given up a set piece goal in seven of their ten matches played so far. In a season that has seen everything go wrong, the set piece defending is probably the #1 culprit to United’s current malaise.

After United’s abysmal effort on Wednesday night in their 4-0 home loss to Houston, Ben Olsen made five changes to the lineup including Joe Willis in goal for Bill Hamid and a first ever start up top for Casey Townsend. While the energy and effort was there, the familiar scene of falling behind happened yet again. In just the 11th minute, just two minutes after Townsend rang the post for United, FC Dallas took the lead after carving apart United’s defense. Defender Ethan White, making his first start since the 2011 season, was caught in no mans land and let Jackson slip by him and his left-footed rocket easily beat Willis from eight yards out.

United didn’t wilt and leveled the match in the 44th minute from a Dwayne De Rosario free kick. The goal was the first scored for United on the road this season and gave the Black-and-Red some much needed confidence heading into the break.

After the intermission however, it was the home side that was creating all the chances and the damn finally broke in the 77th minute. Under pressure for at least ten minutes by this point, you could feel the goal coming and fittingly it came on a set piece. Joe Willis was blocked from coming out to punch out Michel’s in swinging corner and it bounced off the chest of Watson at the far post and bundled into the empty net.

United tried to push the pace for the equalizer but never really threatened the FC Dallas goal and United was resigned to their club-record fate of a seventh consecutive loss.

United will now attempt to avoid an eight straight loss and fifth straight home loss when they entertain Sporting Kansas City on Sunday evening May 19th at RFK Stadium.

United vs Union: Awful start dooms United to fourth consecutive loss

Last season’s motto for D.C. United was “Take Back RFK”. They certainly did that by compiling a 12-1-4 record at the old building and instilling a new confidence in the squad. Apparently the motto so far in this disastrous start to the 2013 season should be named “Give Back RFK” as United lost their third consecutive home match and fourth match overall by a 3-2 score to rival Philadelphia Union.

Philadelphia scored twice in the first eleven minutes to help the visitors to their first ever win at RFK Stadium. Jack McInerney scored twice and Conor Casey scored to help put the visitors out front 3-1 after the first 45 minutes. McInerney, just 20-years old, got the scoring started in the seventh minute thanks mostly to some Keystone Cops defending by United. Defender Dejan Jakovic’ lazy up field pass was easily cut out and started an instant counter attack. Casey put McInerney through towards goal but Jakovic and Brandon McDonald recovered sufficiently to deal with the young striker. McInerney’s simple cut to his left somehow left both of United’s defenders out in the cold as the youngster’s left-footed blast easily beat United goalkeeper Bill Hamid for the quick 1-0 lead.

The visitors soon doubled their advantage just four minutes later. Defender Daniel Woolard took a poor angle and allowed former United midfielder Danny Cruz to get in behind him deep down the right side of the penalty area. Cruz’ simple cutback took Woolard out of the play as he spotted Casey at the top of the penalty area. The burly striker took one touch to his left and sent a worm burner past Hamid’s near post for a shock 2-0 lead.

Considering United’s poor start to the season so far, it wouldn’t have been out of the realm of possibility to see the Black-and-Red pack it in and play to what would have inevitably been a 4 or 5-0 home loss. However, United somehow managed to find the urgency that has been missing all season offensively and halved the deficit in the 17th minute. A poor free kick from Chris Pontius ended back on the midfielders feet and he sent a ball to the left side of the field to Jakovic. The central defender found his partner Brandon McDonald all alone at the top of the area and the his subsequent pass beautifully split the Union defense and hit Dwayne De Rosario in stride. The Canadian then played the ball back towards the penalty spot where Perry Kitchen blasted the ball past Union goalkeeper Zac MacMath to give United a brief respite of hope. The goal, only the third through seven matches was easily United’s best constructed moment of this season.

That hope turned sour once again in the 26th minute when United’s set piece defending failed them once again. Sheanon Williams long throw in was flicked to the back post by defender Amobi Okugo right to McInerney  who picked up the loose ball and fired left-footed once again to beat Hamid. Daniel Woolard was caught ball watching on the play and allowed the Union striker to bag his MLS-leading sixth goal of the season. United now has given up 10 goals in seven matches, 5 of which have been scored on set pieces.

United once again though did not give up and two minutes after the restart had shaved the lead to 3-2. Daniel Woolard got space on the left flank and his inch perfect cross met the head of Lionard Pajoy who easily beat MacMath. United continued to pour players forward for the remainder of the match but to no avail. In fact, Philadelphia had the best scoring opportunity in the dying moments when midfielder Keon Daniel waltzed through the clearly tiring United defense only to see Hamid stone the Union attacker and keep United’s faint equalizing hopes alive. United had a free kick in stoppage time but Carlos Ruiz’ effort was easily handled by MacMath, sealing United’s league-leading fourth loss in a row. United now has dropped to the bottom of the league with the loss.

United will next face the Columbus Crew in the capitol of Ohio next Saturday evening. United will then be off the following weekend before hosting the Houston Dynamo on Wednesday, May 8th.

 

United Notes

– McInerney was drafted seventh overall by the Union at the 2010 MLS SuperDraft. You’ll remember that United had traded Fred and a #1 pick in 2010 for the rights to Troy Perkins. Perkins was then subsequently traded to the Portland Timbers after his awful 2010 season with United. That trade set in motion a number of deals that eventually saw Dwayne De Rosario make his way to United

– Midfielder Marcos Sanchez sprained an ankle in training and did not make the 18-man squad.

– Casey Townsend did make the squad and was seemingly set to make a late appearance when Olsen pulled him back and chose instead Robbie Russell. Olsen said that Russell’s ability to “get his head on everything” was one of the reasons he was chosen over Townsend.

United vs Houston Pregame: Season opener has United at Houston House of Horrors

 

[UPDATED]Dwayne De Rosario has indeed been suspended for two matches and fined for his altercation with Danny Cruz

The last time D.C. United officially had taken the field outside of RFK Stadium was the first leg of the Eastern Conference finals against the Houston Dynamo in Houston this past November.

 That 3-1 loss was chock full of agonizing moments that all worked against United, not the least of which was the 45th minute non-call by referee Ricardo Salazar on an Andre Hannualt tackle from behind that should have been a straight red and left United with a 1-0 lead at the break at the very least (United still would have had a direct free kick straight at goal from 22 yards – though arguing they would have scored would have been optimistic at best seeing as United didn’t score a single goal off of a direct free kick all season long). I highly doubt United would have given up three second half goals with a man advantage and would have most likely been in the drivers seat heading back to RFK Stadium just six days later. As it happens, the call didn’t materialize and United’s defense collapsed in the second half and Houston took a huge advantage into RFK that turned into a second consecutive MLS Cup final appearance.

 Thus is the tragic history of D.C. United in the city of Houston. Doesn’t matter if the match is played in Houston’s shiny brand new BBVA Compass Stadium or the old Robertson Stadium on the campus of the University of Houston. United simply has been a non-factor and an almost automatic three points for the Dynamo. Here’s the gruesome tale of the tape:

 9 matches played in MLS competition (including last seasons playoffs) – 0 wins, 8 losses and 1 draw. 5 goals scored and 20 goals allowed.

 Ouch….

 

Top that off with the breaking news that team captain Dwayne De Rosario is most likely to be suspended for the match because of a head-butting incident last weekend against ex-teammate Danny Cruz in the final match of the preseason, and the news just doesn’t get any better. I highly doubt another team in MLS can boast a record of such mediocrity and futility through their history at an opponents home field. United definitely has its work cut out for them but they do have some things to hang their hats on heading into this match.

 One, the Dynamo haven’t exactly covered themselves in glory so far this preseason. Yes, I know preseason results matter about as much as a cool glass of milk to Mike Martin on a bar-hopping tour, but it is a hopeful indication of the team just not gelling at the moment. Secondly, the weather is going to be very comfortable on Saturday evening. A high of 60 degrees is expected during the daytime and this should quell any notion of having to play in Houston’s famous 10-inch thick humidity.

 And lastly, it just seems about damn time that United get their act together and not mail in a road performance in Houston. Perhaps they can use the potential DeRo suspension to their benefit. Maybe even use the non-call in the playoffs as further motivation.

 Let’s assume DeRo won’t be available. This will leave head coach Ben Olsen with some moves to make in his absence. The easiest and most likely of which would be to move Chris Pontius from his left midfield to the forward line in support of Lionard Pajoy. Now Olsen will have a few options on the left side of midfield. He can use rookie Kyle Porter, a natural lefty who impressed tremendously in preseason, or he could flip Nick DeLeon over to that spot. Olsen could also go the cautious route and start Lewis Neal on the left and leave DeLeon on the right. Another intriguing option would be Panamanian midfielder Marcos Sanchez. Sanchez’ visa issues have been cleared up and he would be available to play.

 Everywhere else in the lineup it seems rather predictable. Bill Hamid in goal with a defensive lineup from right to left of Chris Korb, Brandon McDonald, Dejan Jakovic and Daniel Woolard seems to be an easy call. In midfield the question depends on what Olsen will do with the DeRo suspension but my gut tells me that Sanchez will play on the right, DeLeon on the left with Perry Kitchen and Marcelo Saragosa roaming central midfield.

 As for the Dynamo, injury concerns with newly acquired Omar Cummings might see him come off the bench with Cam Weaver and United-killer Will Bruin up top.

 Midfield should see Brad Davis on the left with Oscar Boniek Garcia on the right and Giles Barnes and Adam Moffet patrolling the center of the park. In defense the Dynamo will most likely go from right to left with Kofi Sarkodie, Bobby Boswell, Jermaine Taylor and Corey Ashe with Tally Hall in the nets.

 History and my brain tells me that United doesn’t have a chance in this match. For whatever reason at whatever time of the year, United just doesn’t seem to focus when playing in Houston and honestly, they just have never matched up with the very disciplined Dom Kinnear-coached Dynamo. The Law of Averages and my heart says that United will have to win at some point, but with this last-minute distraction of the impending De Rosario suspension, this will give United the requisite excuse to mail in another bland performance on Saturday night

On the bright side of things, this is the only matchup in Houston this year and it will be out of the way after Week 1. Unless of course they meet deep in the playoffs. Even knowing United’s paltry history in Houston, if you were to give me that scenario in the playoffs, I’d take it and run to the hills..

United vs Real Salt Lake: Misery continues on the road as United fall 1-0 to Real Salt Lake

While the effort and the conviction was improved, the result was unfortunately the same as D.C. United lost 1-0 to Real Salt Lake last night in front of 20,344 fans at Rio Tinto Stadium. The loss for United (12-10-5, 41 points) drops them into a tie for the fifth and final playoff spot with Chicago who has two games in hand on the Black-and-Red. Columbus’ second straight stoppage time win in a row vaulted them into fourth place and past both United and Chicago.

United’s playoff destiny is out of their hands now after being in control for most of the season. United has now lost six straight matches and seven of eight overall away from RFK Stadium and will be the focal point to perhaps yet another season without a playoff berth. Will Johnson’s 50th minute header was all Real Salt Lake needed to move into 3rd place in the Western Conference playoff chase.

Dwayne De Rosario’s 28th minute missile off the goal post and his one-v-one against former United goalkeeper Nick Rimando midway through the second half were all the dangerous chances United could muster in hopes of ending a critical road match losing streak. United’s overall game was much improved over some of their recent hapless road performances but yet again they failed to convert and have damaged their postseason hopes with this critical loss.

United has only seven matches remaining, four of which come on the road. The only saving grace for United right now is that they do play five straight matches upcoming against teams not currently in playoff position and also not likely to make the playoffs. If United can’t manage to win some of these games and break their losing skid on the road then they only have themselves to blame for missing the playoffs for the fifth consecutive season.

United will now take a much needed two-week break and will host the New England Revolution in their next match on Saturday, September 15th at RFK Stadium. Needless to say, anything less than three points on that evening will seriously damper United’s hopes for a playoff bid.

 

United Notes

– Andy Najar (abscessed tooth), Branko Boskovic (virus) and Hamdi Salihi (hamstring) were all out of the lineup for United

– Maicon Santos played made a substitute appearance and played for the first time since July

RC_DCvsRed-Bulls277

United vs Red Bull: United concedes late stunner in 2-2 draw

D.C. United were well on their way to an important win and celebrating Dwayne De Rosario’s 100th MLS goal when a bolt of lightning from the weaker right foot of Red Bull defender Wilman Conde spoiled the party in United’s eventual 2-2 draw with New York Red Bull last night at RFK Stadium.

The win would have vaulted United into 3rd place into the tightly congested Eastern Conference but as it happens the Black-and-Red have to settle for a 4th place tie with the Chicago Fire. The draw extended United’s home unbeaten streak to a club record-tying 13 games and also gave United the edge in winning the much less prestigious Atlantic Cup.

The draw felt like a loss however as it allowed the Columbus Crew to gain ground with their 95th minute win over the Philadelphia Union. They are only two points behind United but with a game in hand. Chicago, currently tied with United on 41 points, also has a game in hand on United. Montreal still is in with a shout as they are 5 points off the pace but they only have 6 matches remaining (United has 8, Chicago and Columbus have 9 each) and their season will be on the line this Saturday when they travel to meet the Crew in Ohio.

United fell behind in the 19th minute on a goal from Joel Lindpere but equalized just two minutes later when Nick DeLeon slipped past the Red Bull defense and guided an easily savable ball past Red Bull goalkeeper Bill Gaudette. DeLeon returned the favor in the 72nd minute when his long ball from inside United’s half of the field found De Rosario at the top of the penalty area. The Canadian striker beat the onrushing Gaudette and the cushioned header settled easily into the open net giving De Rosario his landmark 100th goal. De Rosario now becomes only the 7th player in MLS history to reach the Century mark in goals scored.

Gaudette’s save on a 74th minute bomb from DeLeon kept the visitors in the match until the Conde unleashed on a loose ball at the top of the penalty area that gave Bill Hamid no chance. Red Bull is now winless in their last eight road matches but pulled within a point of Sporting Kansas City at the top of the Eastern Conference while maintaining their five point lead over United.

United now has turn their attention to a difficult road match this weekend in Sandy, Utah against Real Salt Lake. United is currently on a five-game road losing streak and has an 0-5-1 all-time record at Rio Tinto Stadium. Not exactly a comforting thought. After that match, United will have a two-week break and will begin their final playoff push. It is very likely that by the time United host the New England Revolution on September 15th they could be on the outside looking in for a playoff spot.