Portland, Oregon, May 27, 2015 – The script was almost written before kickoff of D.C. United’s match last night against Portland Timbers FC.
3 road games in 8 days, the last two on Field Turf – check
5,000 mile mid-week round trip to Portland – check
4 injured regulars (Fabian Espindola, Nick DeLeon, Michael Farfan, Luis Silva) – check
4 regular starters (Chris Pontius, Chris Rolfe, Davy Arnaud, Sean Franklin) left back in D.C. – check
2 more starters (Bobby Boswell, Perry Kitchen) on the bench to start the match – check
That United almost came out of Cascadia with a valuable point in their 1-0 loss last night was about as much as one could reasonably expect given the list of excuses referenced above.
United fell behind in the 5th minute when Taylor Kemp’s giveaway led directly to a quick strike from Max Urruti, the man who also had the game-winner in stoppage time last year against United at Providence Park.
United (6-3-4, 22 points) remains in first place in the Eastern Conference and the Supporters Shield standings despite the loss (their third consecutive game without a win) and the Timbers (4-5-4, 16 points) extend their winning streak to two matches, lifting themselves off the bottom of the Western Conference.
Head coach Ben Olsen made seven changes to the lineup coming off of last Saturday’s 1-1 draw in New England and with the crush of matches and travel bearing down on the team, the moves were necessitated and saw a patchwork lineup that gave season debuts to Luke Mishu and Jarred Jeffrey in midfield. The match also saw the return of Steve Birnbaum to the lineup after a two-month injury layoff.
Markus Halsti, Miguel Aguilar and Conor Doyle also saw their second starts of the season and to no one’s surprise the Black-and-Red struggled out of the gate with their fractured lineup. The Timbers took full advantage of that in the 5th minute when Kemp failed to deal with an initial defense of a pass to the corner and he got stripped of the ball. Gaston Fernandez quickly scooped up the loose ball and sent it square across the goal mouth just behind United’s defense where Urriti was waiting all alone at the back post. The Argentine striker easily pushed it past Bill Hamid for the quick 1-0 lead.
It took United about 20-25 more minutes to finally grab a foot-hold in the match and should have equalized in the 31st minute but Birnbaum’s header from six yards away on a corner kick somehow eluded the open goal after Timbers keeper Adam Kwarasey was caught out of position.
United created two other half-chances before the halftime whistle when Jairo Arrieta’s bid was blocked inside the penalty area and Conor Doyle’s shot from 18 yards straight out flew just over the crossbar.
After the break however it was United who would begin to grab hold of the match but failed to put together any meaningful chances to test Kwarasey. On the other end of the field though Bill Hamid was putting on a goalkeeping clinic in keeping the Timbers from extending their lead. With United pushing numbers forward to find an equalizer, it was the Timbers who were counter attacking with relish and nearly got their insurance goal if not for Hamid.
Hamid made consecutive stops on former United midfielder Rodney Wallace and Dairon Asprilla within a minute and then followed up minutes later with a sensational kick save on Asprilla late in the match.
It was not to be though as United just didn’t have enough cohesion and experience on the field to gain a valuable equalizer. The narrative coming out of this match is that despite the huge number of first-team players not involved in the match, Ben Olsen can take a few performances from individual players and use that moving forward as United will now have a trio of home matches in short order (yet another 3 games in 3 games in 8 day stretch) when they host Philadelphia (Saturday, May 30- 7pm), Chicago (Wednesday, June 3 – 7 pm) and Toronto FC (Saturday, June 6 – 7pm) in the upcoming week.
Wow, someone at United must have really cheesed off the league scheduler.