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Ben Olsen. Photo: Martin Fernandez.

2nd-half collapse leads to United’s 4-1 loss in Los Angeles

Carson, California, March 7, 2016 – For forty-five minutes it was all going to plan for D.C. United and head coach Ben Olsen as they opened their 2016 campaign at the Stub Hub Center.

Get an early goal from debutante Lamar Neagle. Check.

Control the tempo and create most of the dangerous opportunities. Check.

Keep the Galaxy off balance and limit their scoring opportunities. Check.

Then the second half began and it all fell apart as the Los Angeles Galaxy stormed back with four unanswered goals to mitigate what was a hopeful result for the Black-and-Red. Mike Magee, the 2013 MLS MVP, made a triumphant return to the City of Angels with a pair of goals and an assist to lead the Galaxy to a 4-1 win over D.C. United before over 25,000 at the Stub Hub Center.

United could not have gotten off to a better start when high pressure forced Steven Gerrard into a turnover that Chris Rolfe pounced on. He was met almost immediately by Galaxy defender and Bryans Road, MD native son A.J. Delagarza. The collision resulted in the loose ball hitting Neagle in stride who took off towards goal. As the defense was closing, the newly acquired Neagle, a surprise starter for Fabian Espindola, unleashed a left-footed worm burner that got under the arms of Galaxy goalkeeper Dan Kennedy for the quick 1-0 lead.

United kept the Galaxy under wraps for most of the first half and cruised into halftime with the 1-0 lead.

Then Mike Magee came on. Magee, who has torched United throughout his career no matter where he has played (Metrostars, Galaxy, Chicago and now back to LA) wasted no time in making his presence felt. The Galaxy should have tied it up as early as the 52nd minute but the crossbar and Andrew Dykstra made back-to-back saves on Robbie Keane and Gyasi Zardes respectively.

Just three minutes later the rout was on. Rookie defender Daniel Steres, a surprise starter for the Galaxy in his own right, barged through the penalty area and rocketed home a header from six yards off of a Magee corner kick. United were clearly stunned at this point and began to break down defensively.

However, United should have retaken the lead just minutes later when Neagle fed a beautiful defense-splitting pass to Nick DeLeon who charged towards goal. DeLeon easily beat substitute goalkeeper Brian Rowe (first half for injured Dan Kennedy) but couldn’t beat the far side post as the shot pinged away in frustration.

That missed opportunity was the key point in the match as soon after the Galaxy had the game-winning goal. Sebastian Lletget, who was giving United left-back Taylor Kemp headaches all night, cut back on Kemp and clipped a ball to the far post. United’s defensive positioning on the play was poor to say the least and Magee found himself wide open from 10 yards out. Magee simply lofted his second touch over the head of the committed Dykstra and the rout was on.

In the 83rd minute the Galaxy made it 3-1 after Robbie Keane converted a penalty kick after Dykstra inexplicably left his leg out to trip Magee who’s shot had already gone wide of the goal. The Irishman calmly put it past Dykstra and then the rout was complete when United fell asleep for a second time on a free kick and allowed Magee to dart in between two United defenders to power home a diving header and the final nail in United’s coffin.

United now must regroup and come back home before traveling up to another place that has been a house of horrors for them in recent years. Gillette Stadium in Foxborough to take on the New England Revolution. The Revs pulled off their own miracle with a last-second headed goal in stoppage time to tie the Houston Dynamo 3-3 yesterday afternoon in Houston.

 

LA's Robbie Keanne beats United defender Dejan Jakovic to the ball; Photo: Tony Quinn.

DC host a Galaxy without a few stars

DC hopes to rebound from a woeful performance last week by catching the Galaxy at a good time when most of their big stars are away.

Unfortunately for DC, while the Galaxy will be without their top two scorers in league MVP Robbie Keane and young superstar Gyasi Zardes, as well as starting keeper Jaime Pinedo, they do have Edson Buddle and Alan Gordon and they beat DC handily last year 4-1 without Keane and Zardes. Beefeater Gordon hung two of those goals on DC to boot and Buddle has scored more than 100 MLS goals so it’s not like LA is toothless. Of course the Galaxy are also defending champions and have won 3 of the last 4 titles under former United coach Bruce Arena, so this is not a team that will go down easily no matter who they are missing.

DC on the other hand is the defending Eastern Conference champions, but they won that by playing relatively injury and mistake free the entire season. That is not the case now. They are buried under injuries and one crucial suspension as well as seeing veteran players make truly shocking gaffes on both ends of the field. Granted, United started last season with a couple ugly games to begin the year before rebounding to virtually run the table, but this situation in no way mirrors last year.

DC was completely overhauled before last season and had seven new starters to integrate into the team in those first few ugly games. This year the team is virtually intact except for injuries to Luis Silva and the suspension of Fabian Espindola. It was supposed to be a strength of this team to be able to return virtually all of their starters from last year, but it hasn’t worked out that way at all. Outside of a few good plays here and there in the first few games, DC has looked confused and disjointed with mistakes aplenty.

Ben Olsen seems to think it is merely mental mistakes and not playing hard enough, but that’s naïve at best, insulting at worst. This team has shown very little organization offensively and is being tactically overwhelmed regularly and that is on Olsen. Teams from Costa Rica to the Jersey swamps have figured out that you can overwhelm DC’s pitiful midfield which has a domino effect on pulling DC’s defense too far apart and makes them prone to mistakes through being disconnected. And it’s becoming increasingly obvious neither Olsen nor the players are capable of figuring out how to adjust either before the game or during it.

Teams also don’t need to worry too much about DC’s pedestrian attack. Playing an archaic 4-4-2, DC is built to attack on the wings, but rarely does it effectively. More often than not an attack on the wing fizzles into someone dribbling into a herd for a turnover, or they turn and back pass for a defender to hoof it upfield to a flailing forward with defenders draped all over him. United is only truly threatening when they’re gifted a turnover in a good spot and sometimes not even then.

Last year, DC had these same problems on offense, but Espindola and Silva were able to mask the issues by finding each other in the seams of the opposing defense, and also finding the back of the net more often than not. So DC essentially scored enough to win close games as the defense hardly put a foot wrong. Without them and with Pontius playing like a shadow of his former self and Nick DeLeon dribbling himself into trouble constantly, DC’s offense is pretty much down to whatever the cagey veterans Chris Rolfe, Jairo Arrieta, and Davy Arnaud can conjure up usually out of nothing. You can bet the house Arena will have noticed and will come in here with a plan. It’s not for nothing Olsen has never beaten The Bruce in the four years he’s been DC’s coach.

Looking at the lineups, Olsen has almost no option but to go with the same starting XI from the New York debacle. Arrieta and Pontius as forwards, Rolfe, Arnaud, Kitchen and DeLeon in midfield and Chris Korb, Steve Birnbaum, Bobby Boswell, and former Galaxy right back Sean Franklin in the defense in front of Bill Hamid in goal. Maybe Taylor Kemp gets the start for Korb if he’s ready for 90 minutes, we’ll see. It’s my guess Arena goes with Buddle and Gordon at forward, Jose Villareal, Juninho, Baggio Husidic, and Stefan Ishizaki in midfield, then Dan Gargan, Omar Gonzalez, Leonardo, and Robbie Rogers in front of Brian Rowe. However, he may well rotate Gordon and Buddle allowing him to start an extra midfielder attacker like Mika Vayrynen if he knows Buddle can’t go 90 as he’s just back from an injury.

So, looking at the matchups and likely tactics, DC should be happy the tricky and precise Keane and speedy and powerful Zardes aren’t here because the aging Buddle and the teeth rattling Gordon are better matchups for DC’s central defense, but that’s where the good news ends. Villareal with a goal and an assist already this season will be a handful for Franklin and the rugged Ishizaki is an absolute nightmare for Korb or Kemp as Kemp has trouble defending anyone and Korb does not do well with big guys with skill who can fend him off or simply round him on the dribble. If Ishizaki gets five or six crosses in the box, then Gordon will bundle at least one in for sure.

All of which is also very bad news for DC’s offense which really needs to have Franklin and Korb or even better Kemp get forward into the attack. Franklin has been hesitant this year for some reason, but if he’s stuck back keeping Villareal from causing trouble and if Korb or Kemp contributes very little too, United is down to hoof it and hope. Which is unfortunate because that means Rolfe and DeLeon will have to stay wider and not come inside where they do their best work. LA has a bit of a soft spot as Juninho really is the only cover for the backline as Husidic doesn’t like to defend. So, unless the outside backs or even Arnaud gets forward enough to unbalance LA’s midfield defense, DC will be playing pretty much straight up and I don’t see Rolfe getting much joy against Gargan or Pontius and Arrieta getting over or around Gonzalez or Leonardo that much nor will DeLeon be much trouble for Rogers.

No matter how you break it down, DC just doesn’t have the talent or the form to pull off anything other than a tie against LA. DC would have to play their absolute best and LA be a bit off for there to even be hope of a win. DC just has too many key injuries right now and has yet to show any decent form or even a coherent style of play. Add in mistakes and you get the travesty we saw in New York. But even taking away those defensive mistakes, you just don’t see where the goals will come from in this game as LA isn’t likely to make a ton of mistakes. DC will have to be precise in the few chances they will get and they have yet to show that they can be that precise in front of goal.

It doesn’t help that LA has no reason to fear DC or RFK either. Incredibly, United hasn’t beaten the Galaxy since Gallardo was roaming DC’s midfield in 2008. DC has gone 0-3-4 against LA since. LA is also the only visiting team to have a winning record in RFK as well as the lead in head to head regular season meetings all-time as well. DC is 8-9-4 in RFK against LA, but three of last four matches in RFK have been draws so that’s something. DC is 13-19-9 all-time against LA, although United has beaten their biggest league wide rival twice in Cup finals.

Now I’d like nothing better than to be proven wrong, but everything points to a draw at best, more likely a loss. We’ll see. Recent history points to a draw and I remember a high draft pick back in 2009 making his first start in the first game of the season and scoring the tying goal in a 2-2 draw with the Galaxy in LA. Perhaps a certain electrifying high draft pick Miguel Aguilar, who just got his paperwork straightened out and is available, starts or comes off the bench and scores the tying goal in this one.

LA's Robbie Keanne beats United defender Dejan Jakovic to the ball; Photo: Tony Quinn.

United vs Galaxy: Late equalizer salvages energetic 2-2 draw with the Galaxy

Kyle Porter’s 84th minute headed goal earned D.C. United a well deserved but still unsatisfying 2-2 draw against the Los Angeles Galaxy this afternoon at sunny RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C.

Twice United fell behind the star studded Galaxy lineup but unlike any other time this season, United found the equalizing goal. Robbie Keane (above right; Photo Tony Quinn.) put the Galaxy up in just the 7th minute finishing off a nice sequence after Landon Donovan’s back heel. Keane faked out the United defense and slipped a shot towards goal that United goalkeeper Bill Hamid somehow managed to get a hand on but only slowed it down before settling into the net.

The usual response for United this season after allowing an early goal would be a game-long search that usually comes to nothing. Today was different however and United managed to take the play to the visitors and were rewarded for their efforts in the 39th minute due to a combination of good hustle from Chris Pontius and lazy defending from Omar Gonzalez.

Gonzalez, fresh off his 90-minute stint in defense for the United States during their 2014 World Cup clinching win against Mexico on Wednesday, seemed to make the wrong choice defensively by chesting a ball too casually and Pontius ghosted in and took the ball right off his foot. Pontius glided in all alone on Penedo and rounded the keeper and tucked his second goal of the season away to draw the match level at 1-1. Pontius was making his first start in nearly two months and scored his first goal from the run of play in nearly a whole calendar year.

After the break, Landon Donovan was subbed out with a minor ankle injury that could have been seen as an eye towards a crucial Tuesday night CONCACAF Champions league match for the Galaxy. In fact, considering how poorly United has played this season in combination with four of the Galaxy’s top players just coming off International World Cup qualifying duty, it was a bit of a surprise that head coach Bruce Arena decided to play essentially his top X1.

With United dictating the tempo since the opening Galaxy goal, seemingly their night was ruined when the Galaxy scored against the run of play in 81st minute. Rookie midfielder Gyasi Zardes’ quick switch of field pass over the United defense set Keane and midfielder Michael Stephens into a 2-v-1 advantage at the far side of the penalty area. With United scrambling back to try to defend, Keane slipped a pass to Stephens who calmly placed a shot to the left of Hamid and into the corner of the far side of goal for a 2-1 lead.

Under normal circumstances, this would have been the end of the game based on United’s terrible form this season. However, the Black-and-Red managed to pull out the equalizer through some nice work of their own deep in Galaxy territory. With United pushing players into attack, Perry Kitchen found himself at the corner of the penalty area and his deft chip over the defense found a wide-open Kyle Porter who’s one-time header easily beat Penedo to give United a much deserved share of the spoils.

United managed to put a scare into the Galaxy in stoppage time when team captain Dwayne De Rosario’s turn and chip to the far post nearly connected with Porter that would have given United a surprise come-from-behind win. But in a season that was over long ago, that would have been asking too much of a team that has been on the wrong end of the scoreline too many times.

United will now hit the road for two of their final three road matches of the season when they take on New England and Toronto FC starting next weekend in Foxborough, MA

United puts up another poor effort in 3-1 hammering to the Galaxy

Robbie Keane scored on either side of halftime and the supposed weary legs of the Los Angeles Galaxy ran all over D. C. United in their 3-1 victory today in Carson, California. Marcelo Sarvas scored the final goal for the home side while United’s lone goal from rookie Nick DeLeon was little consolation for the Black-and-Red.

The Galaxy came into this match with no confidence after getting bounced out of the CONCACAF Champions League on Wednesday night at the hands of a poor Toronto FC squad. The defense so far in LA’s first three matches of the season (including both legs against TFC) had given up 7 goals and seemed ripe for the picking for a United squad that admittedly played conservatively in their league opening loss to Sporting Kansas City. However, Bruce Arena only made one change to his lineup while Ben Olsen strangely enough made six changes heading into this match.

It was pretty evident from the opening whistle that the Galaxy were not going to feel sorry for themselves and put United under pressure from the first minute. Goalkeeper Joe Willis, subbing in for Bill Hamid who is away with the US U-23 team (as well as Perry Kitchen), made a number of stunning saves to keep United in the match during the first half and nearly got to the break with score at 0-0. But slack defending from United helped to concede the first goal. Mike Magee was under no pressure from the defender Chris Korb and was allowed to switch the ball to the opposite end of the penalty area where overlapping defender Todd Dunnivant headed the ball back across the goal to a wide open Robbie Keane to put the home side up 1-0.

After the break, United subbed in defender Emiliano Dudar for the ineffective Dejan Jakovic and should have leveled the score in the 52nd minute. A rare offensive foray into Galaxy territory resulted in a free kick that was initially cleared out. Stephen King quickly punched the clearance back into the box were Dudar chested the ball down and was only four yards away from goal. His right-footed stab however blazed over the bar and left the match at 1-0.

The Galaxy essentially clinched the match in the 69th minute thanks in part to more terrible United play. Korb sent a ball into the middle of the field that immediately put Branko Boskovic under immediate pressure and the ball poked out to Landon Donovan. The US star carried the ball across the top of the penalty area and feathered a pass to Keane on the left side of the box. The Irishmen then unleashed a left-footed corker that hit the far side upper 90 to send the Home Depot Center into rapture..

United at this point went for broke and were constantly sending players forward and in the 86th minute the Galaxy took advantage of their aggressiveness. David Beckham was again under little pressure from Korb as his whipped in cross  from the right side met the head of Brazilian Marcelo Sarvas and gave Joe Willis no chance.

United did manage to get a consolation goal from SuperDraft top pick Nick DeLeon just a minute later. Boskovic made a perfect defense splitting pass that hid DeLeon in stride as he angled in towards goal all alone. The Louisville star curled the ball in off the far post for a goal in his professional debut.

United now must find a way to pick themselves up physically and mentally as they will stay on the West Coast to train ahead of their match next Saturday night in Vancouver. The Whitecaps have started the season 2-0 with a pair of 1-0 wins and must be licking their chops at the sight of United coming to town.