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Arnaud-Zusi Quinn

0-0 draw with Sporting Kansas City enough to clinch playoff berth for United

D.C. United’s Davy Arnaud and Sporting Kansas City’s Graham Zusi played to a scoreless draw in their team’s match last night at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C in front of 19,308 soggy but boisterous fans. Photo: Tony Quinn.

The draw was enough to send United to the playoffs and still maintain at least a six-point lead atop the Eastern Conference with just three matches to play. United garnered their 12th shutout of the season (their third against Sporting this season) and the 10th for Bill Hamid who was called upon to make three saves.

United completed a comeback from the single worst MLS season in history last year when they only won three matches all season long. United still has work to do to complete their “worst to first” effort but that doesn’t diminish the accomplishment any further.

The visitors came out on the front foot and bossed the early portions of the game before United started to grab a hold of proceedings about twenty minutes in. United however had the best opportunities to score and should have taken an early lead but not for a nice save by Sporting goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum in the 28th minute on a rasping drive from Fabian Espindola after some nice set up play by Taylor Kemp and Luis Silva. Kemp stripped Sporting midfielder Antonio Dovale at midfield and raced past Igor Juliao before slipping a pass to Silva in the penalty area. With defenders quickly closing on Silva, he spotted Espindola free at the top of the box and the Argentine’s one-time blast through a thicket of defenders cannoned off Gruenebaum and out of play for a corner kick.

After the break the intensity and the tackling ramped up a few notches and United probably should have been awarded a penalty when Sporting defender Igor Juliao chopped down Chris Pontius in the 53rd minute. Pontius, making his first league start since September of 2013, had the inside edge on Juliao and was trying to bring down an Espindola cross when he caught Pontius in the thigh in midair. Referee Hilario Grajeda chose to make no call to the dismay of United’s lively crowd.

Both teams traded barbs back and forth but it seemed more and more likely heading to a goalless draw as the game drew to a close. United though had to tough it out after ceding a few semi-dangerous free kicks to Sporting only to see United’s defense come through as it has for most of the season, particularly at RFK.

Taking away the season-opening 3-0 loss to Columbus, United has allowed only 6 goals in the subsequent 14 league matches since then. United will close out their home portion of the season when they host the Chicago Fire on October 18th. Before that however is another trip to their House of Horrors – Houston next weekend. Houston is five points from the last playoff spot currently occupied by New York Red Bull. The two teams meet later today and a Red Bull win will push Houston to the brink of elimination. Houston also has a midweek trip to Toronto before facing the Black-and-Red next Saturday at BBVA Compass Stadium.

United vaults to first place after stunning 3-0 win in Kansas City

For at least another 21 hours or so, one team sits alone at the top of MLS.

D.C. United.

With tons of talk in and around the league this week about Supporters Shield contenders, much has been made of surging teams FC Dallas and RSL, who are tied with the Seattle Sounders at 42 points atop the Western Conference while Sporting Kansas City, also on 42 points, have been leaders in the East for most of the season.

Very little thought has been afforded to D.C. United, aside from the predictable comments from all pundits that the team has made an incredible turnaround from a history making awful 2013 campaign.

Perhaps now people will sit up and notice the Black-and-Red. United went into Sporting Park and put a 3-0 beat down on SKC tonight to jump into first place in the East behind three goals in a seven-minute onslaught from Fabian Espindola, Chris Rolfe and Perry Kitchen.

The win for United (13-7-4, 43 points) was their first ever at Sporting Park in five attempts and their first against Sporting on the road since 2007. Coming off back-to-back drubbings on the road, one would hardly have expected United to put forth such an effort, particularly during the busiest stretch of the season.

United was coming off a 1-0 home win in their CONCACAF Champions League opener on Wednesday night while Sporting struggled to a 1-1 draw away in Nicaragua on Tuesday, a game in which Sporting head coach Peter Vermes called on eight of his normal starters while Ben Olsen rolled out a reserve-laden squad.

The difference in philosophies seemed to pay a huge dividend for United as they seemed the more energetic side for most of the evening. United was on the back foot for first twenty minutes or so but took the lead against the run of play in the 24th minute.

Luis Silva played a seemingly harmless ball to Espindola in the corner where he juked Aurelien Collin and made his way to the top corner of the penalty area. Using his weaker right foot, Espindola’s worm burner skipped along the grass and curled it’s way into the far side of the goal to give United the 1-0 lead. Espindola’s goal was his team-leading 9th of the season and gave tallies in two straight league games.

Just four minutes later, United would double their lead when Chris Rolfe beat Sporting’s high defensive line and went in alone and just got his shot past Sporting goalkeeper John Kempin. For Rolfe it was his sixth goal of the year, also scoring in back-to-back games, and it was Silva’s second assist of the night.

United ended all drama on the night when Perry Kitchen wrapped up the scoring just three minutes later. Again United victimized Sporting’s high line as Kitchen ghosted in behind Collin. As Collin caught up to Kitchen, the young midfielder cut back expertly on Collin and rifled his shot just inside the near post for an incredible 3-0 lead.

United was now tasked with simply seeing the remainder of the match out with staunch defending and they did just that. As a matter of fact United had numerous opportunities to extend the lead only to see the woodwork deny Nick DeLeon and substitute David Estrada.

Sporting created only a few chances throughout the match, the best coming off the foot of ex-Maryland and U.S. World Cup veteran Graham Zusi’s shot hitting the crossbar midway through the second half. United goalkeeper Bill Hamid picked up his sixth shutout of the season and second against Sporting this season.

United’s brutal schedule continues when they travel to California to play the Los Angeles Galaxy on Wednesday night at 10:30 pm EST. The match will be shown live on Comcast SportsNet.

Espindola Scores.

United stave off pesky Sporting Kansas City

Fabian Espindola’s seventh goal of the season (above), intentional or not, was the difference maker in D.C. United’s 1-0 win over Sporting Kansas City tonight at RFK Stadium. (Photo: Martin Fernandez).

United (6-4-3  21 points) vaulted over Sporting (5-5-4  19 points) into second place in the Eastern Conference with the win, their first over their conference rivals since May 2010. United’s win also extended their unbeaten run to seven matches at RFK since dropping their season-opening game to Columbus in early March.

United, fielding a full-strength lineup thanks to the insertion back into the lineup of Eddie Johnson who’s red card from last weekend’s match against New England was rescinded midweek,  took advantage of a weakened Sporting side wracked with injuries and international call ups.

Missing at least four first-team regulars, Sporting did welcome back influential defender Aurelien Collin into the lineup. Collin played in Tuesday’s 1-1 draw at home against New York Red Bull and was sorely needed with so many defenders missing from the squad. However, it did not last long as Collin appeared to re-injure his balky hamstring in the 9th minute and was forced out of the match in favor of Sporting’s only defender left on the roster, 17-year old Erik Palmer-Brown.

Palmer-Brown, rumored to have been offered a $1,000,000 transfer fee from Italian giants Juventus in the off-season, was coming off a disastrous MLS debut when he gave up a penalty kick and was ultimately red-carded against the Chicago Fire two weeks ago.

United took full advantage of the loss for Sporting and should have opened the scoring in the 18th minute when a cross from the right flank found a wide open Nick DeLeon inside the six-yard box only to see him head straight at Sporting goalkeeper Erik Kronberg.

Just one minute later United were thwarted again when DeLeon threaded a beautiful pass behind the Sporting defense and into the stride of Johnson who took a touch to improve his angle but he too was denied a goal after the Kronberg save.

Ten minutes later though Kronberg guaranteed his presence on all late-night highlight blooper reels when he horribly misplayed a “cross/shot” from Fabian Espindola. Espindola received the ball on the right flank and worked his way towards the middle of the field on his preferred left peg and spotted a run by Johnson behind the defense. Espindola drove the ball most likely with every intention of connecting with Johnson. Kronberg thought exactly the same thing but realized to his horror that he miscalculated the flight of the cross and scrambled back towards goal to no avail as the ball nestled into the left-side netting.

United gladly took the 1-0 lead into the break as the visitors were starting to gain a territorial foothold of the match.

After the break it was United who generated a few dangerous half-chances that would have been converted on another night. However, it was revealed after the match by head coach Ben Olsen that a virus that left Luis Silva and Conor Doyle out of the New England match the prior weekend, had made it’s way through the club during the week and had left his team short of fitness, as was evident by their poor finishing on the night.

Special kudos should also go to the defensive effort that United put forth against an obviously weakened Sporting lineup. Olsen remarked that despite the missing players, the energy level put forth by the visitors was amazing to watch and gave his team fits all night long with their high-pressure marking that nearly set off a few different altercations during the match.

In fact, Espindola was fortunate not to receive a straight red card in stoppage-time for a two-handed push in the chest to Benny Feilhaber right in front of match referee Jorge Gonzalez. Fortunately for Espindola and the season-high 18, 522 fans in attendance, United were able to see the remainder of the match out under heavy pressure from the visitors. Bill Hamid made a number of competent saves and kept all rebounds within arms reach to preserve his third shutout of the season and the team’s fifth overall.

United didn’t go completely unscathed in this match as substitute Alex Caskey was sent off in the 94th minute with a late tackle on defender Kevin Ellis. Additionally, midfielder Perry Kitchen will be forced to miss next weekend’s match against the Columbus Crew when he picked his fifth yellow-card of the season and has to sit out the league mandated suspension.

United will fact the Crew at 6:30pm at FedEx Field next Saturday night as part of the Spain-El Salvador doubleheader. The United match will be televised on CSN Washington.

United vs Sporting Kansas City: Late defensive mistake paves the way for 1-0 loss in Kansas City

Claudio Bieler’s fourth goal of the season late in the match was the difference as Sporting Kansas City defeated D.C. United 1-0 last night at Sporting Park in Kansas City, Kansas. A dreadful error by D.C. United midfielder Marcos Sanchez in the 88th minute proved costly as his under weighted pass under pressure from Sporting attackers fell short of Marcelo Saragosa. Soony Saad ghosted in and poked the ball through Saragosa’s legs right at the end line. Saad’s left-footed cross hit Bieler in stride and gave United goalkeeper Bill Hamid no chance.

United certainly defended well enough to come out of the match with a second consecutive road 0-0 draw but once again the Black-and-Red offered very little in attack with only one shot on goal by Perry Kitchen being registered on the evening. United (1-3-1  4 points) has been shutout in all three road matches to begin the season and will have to find an answer offensively before they welcome their rivals New York Red Bull into town next Saturday evening.

United was missing team captain Dwayne De Rosario and Nick DeLeon through injury but head coach Ben Olsen started a surprisingly offensive lineup considering United’s poor fortunes on the road so far this season. Olsen could have opted for his preferred 4-5-1 formation and inserted Saragosa into the starting lineup but came out with Raphael Augosto getting his first ever MLS regular season start. Brazilian striker Rafael started up top alongside Lionard Pajoy but the were ineffective as a pair for most of their time on the field.

United struggled to maintain possession against Sporting’s high pressure for most of the match but was pretty sound defensively only giving up a weak effort from C.J. Sapong late in the first half. Both teams struggled to put together quality scoring chances but the home side definitely carried the play for most of the match. Just when it was looking like United was going to earn a hard fought point, Sanchez’ inability to simply clear the ball initially set in motion the game-winning sequence. It’s second time in just over a year that Sporting has taken a win at the death of a match. In United’s season opener in March of 2012, Sapong scored on a header from a corner kick on the last touch of the match.

United must now somehow pick themselves up and prepare for Red Bull next weekend.

United vs Sporting Kansas City preview: Can United change their road mentality?

MLS didn’t do D.C. United any favors with a rather harsh flurry of tough road matches to start the 2013 season. United started the season in a city (Houston) where they have literally never won a match in their history. Then they travel to play the home opener to their most bitter rival (Red Bull) and now United embarks on another death march to another location where they haven’t won since 2007 (Kansas City).

When is this supposed to get easier? Well, if United continues their poor road form, it may never get easier. United will face Sporting Kansas City on Friday night at Sporting Park and there isn’t much optimism surrounding the team at the moment. United hasn’t won in Kansas City since July 4, 2007 when Luciano Emilio scored in their 1-0 win. United has gone win less in seven matches since then and they’ve done it playing in three different places (Arrowhead Stadium, Comerica Park and Sporting Park (formerly Livestrong Sporting Park).

While the defending in their two road matches was mostly good enough to garner results (they did manage to get a point out of Red Bull Arena but only by the skin of their teeth) the offense has been less than stellar. Through both of those matches, United has managed only one shot on goal and rarely have been a threat offensively.

So why is this happening? I think it mostly comes down to the attitude they take into the matches. Head coach Ben Olsen and countless other United players have mentioned ad naseum the soon to be very tiring cliche of “take care of the matches at home and play for a draw on the road”. This to me is loser talk and not relevant to MLS play. MLS teams aren’t going to Old Trafford, La Bombanera or San Siro, there going to Crew Stadium or the mostly empty Home Depot Center when Chivas USA plays or worse yet Gillette Field in Foxborough where you can literally hear the Cotton Candy vendors over the players on the field. Why go into those venues playing predictable and defensive soccer? Granted, there are places in this league where it’s a tough out. Houston, as previously mentioned, is on a 34-game unbeaten streak at home in all competitions and we all know how tough it is to play in Seattle and Portland. Kansas City is no different in that regard as they have pulled off a rags-t0-riches turnaround in their town. Remember, it wasn’t that long ago that 7,000 fans at Arrowhead was a common occurence. Now they turn out 18,000 strong on a week-to-week basis and just goes to show the the power of a well placed new stadium. Hmmm, wish we could have one of those..

So I ask again, why is poor road form happening? Why play defensive and predictably scared soccer? My co-host on the UnitedMania.com Podcast Mike Martin says simply “because they stink”. While that is laced with some hyperbole, where there’s smoke there’s fire. United simply have not played well so far through four matches of the season. Key players like captain Dwayne De Rosario and Chris Pontius have been rendered ordinary at best and it all seems to have flowed downhill, at least until it gets to the defense.

Goalkeeper Bill Hamid and the defense for the most part have done their part. They went 80 good minutes in Houston only to be beaten by an unfortunate own-goal from James Riley. After the air was let out of that particular balloon, Houston tacked on another for good measure late in the match. The team then posted back-to-back shutouts with the 0-0 draw in Red Bull drawing a lot of notice. Yes, they were under seige for the entirety of the second half but that was mostly due to the fact that the mental approach going into that game was to bunker in and make life difficult for Red Bull. Well, this of course meant that United had to sacrifice any offensive notions and quite honestly, it’s just not that much fun to see a team that historically attempts to play attractive soccer go against their nature and squeak out results.

To be fair though, this was the model that got United from sixth place in the East to an eventual second place finish after the injury to De Ro in September of last year. In some small way I don’t blame Olsen for going to that well that often because it signified the most successful run Olsen has had as a coach here in DC. However, it has come at a cost. The offense for the most part, going back to that run last season, has been ordinary at best even with the return of DeRo.

Which brings us to the Sporting match. SKC rolled over the previously unbeaten Montreal Impact 2-0 last Saturday and did it in some style. They dominated their Canadian visitors and this was a team (SKC) that had come into that match on the heels of a pair of 0-0 draws. SKC seems to have turned it around while United continues to flounder. United, coming off a 2-1 loss at home to Columbus nearly two weeks ago, don’t play well against this team and their 4-3-3 formation. It’s just a bad matchup for United and they’ve never quite figured out how to combat their particular style of play.

United will welcome back defender Dejan Jakovic to the back line where he was sorely missed in the Columbus game as the Black-and-Red gave up two goals on set pieces and if not for the heroics of Bill Hamid it would have been much worse. United will also most likely slot midfielder Marcos Sanchez into the right side of midfield for the injured Nick DeLeon, another player who’s struggles has mirrored United’s inconsistent start.

This leaves the dilemma of what to do in the forward and central midfield positions. Olsen came out with an attacking lineup against the Crew (which I wasn’t against BTW) that featured DeRo in the attacking midfield supporting Lionard Pajoy and newcomer Rafael. While this did create more scoring opportunities than in the previous three matches combined, it unhinged United defensively and a lot of mistakes were made, particularly in midfield where you know with DeRo you won’t get the same type of two-way play that Perry Kitchen, or even Marcelo Saragosa provides. So it’s a bit of a double-edged sword in that regard. If you want to put more offense on the field, as they did against Columbus, you may be sacrificing some defensive discipline.

I think after witnesssing what Olsen saw from his squad in terms of turnovers and lost possesion in the Columbus match, Olsen will most likely play it safe and try to slug out a result in Kansas City. We all know what will happen if they do this, Pajoy and DeRo will man the front line, putting Rafael on the bench and he’ll most likely slot Saragosa back alongside Kitchen and the slugfest will ensue with United getting very few chances to play soccer against Sporting’s suffocating pressure.

In a lot of ways, this couldn’t be a worse team for United to play considering their offensive woes. SKC is the most disciplined and regimented defensive team in MLS and they take pride in choking teams off with their high pressure and leaving very little for their opponents to accomplish.

I pretty much have an inkling of what Olsen will do, but if I had my say in the matter, I would juice things up a bit. Considering how difficult it is to play SKC at Sporting Park, why not turn the tables and go at them as opposed to sitting back and letting them dictate play? This is a bit of the Miracle on Ice theory where everyone shook in fear of the mighty Russians but it took an unconventional move by USA coach Herb Brooks to turn the tide. He used the Russian’s own system against them and put them on their heels. Who knows? Maybe Olsen can take a lesson from that.

Here is what I propose for the match on Friday. The usual suspects in the back with Hamid in goal and Riley, Brandon McDonald, Jakovic and Chris Korb from right to left in front of him. The midfield would have Pontius on the left and Sanchez on the right with Kitchen partnered with Raphael Augosto in midfield with DeRo and Rafael up top. I think there is enough youth and energy with this lineup to combat and counter what SKC will throw at United.

This of course means that Olsen will bench Pajoy, a fact that would bring much rejoicing amongst United’s faithful. However, as I have stated on our podcast, Olsen remains loyal to a fault with Pajoy and that goal he scored in the 1-0 win over RSL was a bit of Fools Gold. Olsen didn’t want to hear any criticism of Pajoy after that match because he got the game-winner. However, it’s been a rapid decline for Pajoy since then and honestly the juice isn’t worth the squeeze when Olsen constantly reminds us of how much dirty work Pajoy does for the team. All coaches have blindspots and I think we’ve all found Olsen’s at the moment. Let’s hope that Olsen discovers this fact sooner than later.

So, how is this game going to end up? Well, if United goes with my unconventional thinking, I think a hard fought draw could be in order. However, my head tells me that this will be more of the same old conservative defensive mindset and United will come out with a predictable 2-0 loss at the least. I hope I’m wrong but I just don’t see Olsen as a gambler.

Folks, it might just get worse before it’s gets any better around here.

 

Disney Pro Soccer Classic: United fall 2-0 to Sporting Kansas City

Sporting Kansas City scored twice late in the second half and that was the difference in their 2-0 win over D.C. United tonight at the Disney Pro Soccer Classic. Former United midfielder Bobby Convey scored on a wonderful goal in 74th minute to give SKC the lead and then Soony Saad got the second in the 81st minute after a terrible midfield giveaway from United.

The scoreline was a bit flattering for Sporting Kansas City as this match was even right down the middle and was bereft of any real opportunities until the late goals from SKC.

Convey put Sporting into the lead when he picked up a ball on the left flank at the corner of the penalty area. United were lax in defending and allowed Convey to drift towards the top of the penalty area. When Convey received no pressure he unleashed a right footed shot that curled into the far side netting past reserve goalkeeper Andrew Dykstra.

As United were trying to recover from the shock goal, it was a lack of composure that gifted Sporting their second goal. Trialist Joseph Nane was easily stripped of the ball in midfield and the resulting through ball easily split United’s substitute back line of trialists Henry Kalungi and Shavar Thomas. Sporting forward Soony Saad darted in and slipped the ball underneath the onrushing Dykstra to seal United’s fate.

United gave a first look to young Designated Player Rafael midway through the second half and his one lasting contribution was his breaking of the fence with a powerful shot wide of goal from 18 yards out late in the match. Also making their United preseason debuts were the aforementioned Thomas as well as Panamanian midfielder Marcos Sanchez and Honduran winger Walter Martinez.

United started the match with what many would consider the starting lineup of this team with Bill Hamid in goal accompanied by defenders from right to left, Chris Korb, Brandon McDonald, Dejan Jakovic and Daniel Woolard. The midfield consisted of Nick DeLeon, Perry Kitchen, Marcelo Saragosa and Chris Pontius. Team captain Dwayne De Rosario was joined up top by Lionard Pajoy.

United didn’t take long though to make changes to the squad as head coach Ben Olsen brought off the entire team except for Hamid, Jakovic, McDonald and Saragosa in the 32nd minute.

With the loss, United drops into a tie for second place with Sporting Kansas City after two matches of the Disney Pro Soccer Classic. Montreal leads the group with a pair of wins (over SKC 2-1 this past Saturday and a 4-1 win over Tampa Bay earlier today) and can clinch a spot in the final with a draw in their final match with United on Saturday afternoon at 1pm EST

If United can manage to win that match, they might be able to pip both Montreal and Sporting Kansas City for an appearance in the final but a lot would have to happen for that scenario to present itself.

 

United vs Sporting Kansas City: Familiar pattern unfortunately rings true for United in 2-1 loss in Kansas City

It may have been four months between league matches for D.C. United and Sporting Kansas City, but the outcome and the manner in which it was achieved was the same. Total domination from Sporting Kansas City. Graham Zuisi’s second-half goal was the difference in Sporting’s 2-1 win over United at LiveStrong Park in Kansas City, Kansas.

Nick DeLeon scored for United on their only real attempt at goal all night long in the 24th minute to cancel out Teal Bunbury’s 16th minute header. However, as in the season opening match at RFK, it was Sporting Kansas City that were the sharper side winning every aspect of the match in terms of possession, physicality and most importantly, beating United to every loose ball on the night.

The loss is the fourth consecutive loss for United on the road and continues a pattern of poor play and almost non-competitiveness that goes back all the way to the beginning of June. The poor play started from the jump tonight as the Black-and-Red continue to struggle against teams that employ a 4-3-3 formation. Despite having the superior numbers in midfield, it was the home side that was bossing the match from the opening whistle.

Sporting was coming off a grueling 120 minute extra-time PK Open Cup title on Wednesday night but again it was the visitors who seemed to be running around clueless on the night. United were forced to make a number of changes to the lineup due to injuries suffered by their captain Dwayne De Rosario and left-back Daniel Woolard. In addition, forwards Maicon Santos and Hamdi Salihi didn’t make the trip either due to injury/illness.

Sporting made a number of changes to their lineup as well but it had very little effect on them as they rode the crest of emotion and confidence from their Open Cup triumph to easily defeat United on this night.

United now will have a two-game homestand to try and turn this result around. United will be hosting the Philadelphia Union (another team that employs the 4-3-3 formation) next Sunday evening at RFK Stadium.

 

 

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Stoppage-time winner sinks United in Season opener

C.J. Sapong’s header off of a corner kick in the 92nd minute gave visiting Sporting Kansas City a 1-0 win over D.C. United tonight in the season opener for both teams at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C. Sporting Kansas City were deserved if not cruel victors on a night where United could muster very little offensively against the defending Easter Conference Champions. United’s offseason moves brought in a number of players who hopefully will make a difference at some point this season but it bore very little results on a brisk and chilly 43 degree evening.

United were on the defensive for most of the match as they look disjointed offensively, especially reigning league and newly minted Designated Player MVP Dwayne De Rosario. The Canadian just didn’t have a very sharp night and his only contribution on the evening was the setting up of United’s two most dangerous opportunities on either side of halftime by Chris Pontius and substitute Maicon Santos. Both players had a bead on goal but sent their shots wide of the target as the Black-and-Red could only muster a Santos 83rd minute free kick as their one official shot on goal for the entire match.

Meanwhile, United goalkeeper Bill Hamid was doing all he could to help keep a clean sheet as he ended up with 7 saves but it was the last shot on goal that eventually doomed United to defeat. United defender Brandon McDonald made a poor attempt to clear a ball from striker Kei Kamara and eventually hauled him down for a free kick at the top of the penalty area about 25 yards away. University of Maryland graduate Graham Zuisi took the free kick and his shot ricocheted off the wall and out for a corner. The ensuing corner was whipped in by the former Terp and it met the noggin of Sapong who steered it towards the far post giving Hamid no chance as United strangely decided to leave that post unguarded.

The stinging loss will have to linger for a while as United are now due to make the 3,000 mile trek to Southern California to take on the champion Los Angeles Galaxy next weekend.

 

United Notes

– Ben Olsen decided not to start Argentine central defender Emiliano Dudar in favor of the McDonald/Dejan Jakovic combination. Olsen gave no explanation after the match as to why that decision was made

– Hamdi Salihi, Robbie Russell, Maicon Santos and Danny Cruz all made their United debuts this evening. Santos and Cruz were second-half substitutes

– 1st Round Superdraft pick Nick DeLeon did not make the final 18-man roster

United’s season is over after 1-0 loss at home to Sporting Kansas City

Matt Besler’s 54th minute goal was enough for visiting Sporting Kansas City in their 1-0 victory over D.C. United last night at RFK Stadium. The loss wraps up the season for United as they were officially eliminated from playoff contention in their last match against the Portland Timbers (1-1 draw) on Wednesday evening. United, who were in the heart of the playoff race just four weeks ago, finished their season losing five of their final six matches and ended up in 7th place in the Eastern Conference.

Sporting Kansas City meanwhile clinched the top seed in the Eastern Conference to cap a remarkable turnaround from earlier this season when the team won only one of their first ten matches to start the season. Sporting will now await the result of one of the wild-card playoff matches before they learn their playoff opponent. United meanwhile will live to fight another day as the team has now failed to make the post season for the fourth consecutive year in a row. United had a long way to go after their record setting 2010 campaign for futility. The season overall show improvement in many areas but the single worst detraction was their inability to defend on set pieces and balls that were crossed into the penalty area and tonight was no different.

In the 54th minute, the visitors were taking their 7th corner kick of the match and nearly scored straight off of it when Kei Kamara’s header bounced off the far post. Matt Besler was the most alert of anyone in the area and pounced on the loose ball and made a move to set up his favored left foot and curled a shot into the far corner which gave Bill Hamid no chance. Up to that point in the match it had been a pretty tight affair with United nearly scoring twice in the first half only to see Sporting goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen make a pair of stunning saves on Stephen King and Dwayne De Rosario respectively to keep the match level at 0-0.

United did manage to fight back but their other season-long bugaboo (inability to capitalize on golden scoring opportunities) reared it’s ugly head in stoppage time when Josh Wolff’s rocket header clanged off the crossbar in almost symbolic fashion, nicely summarizing United’s season-long frustration of just coming up an inch short.

United is now left to ponder what could have been after squandering a boat load of opportunities throughout the long MLS season.

 

United Notes

– United’s streak of matches without consecutive wins has now reached over two full MLS seasons and stands at 80 matches heading into the 2012 MLS season

– Charlie Davies did not make the field in what could be his last appearance for United. United has a difficult decision in whether or not to buy the striker from FC Sochaux. The decision to buy out his contract is needed by December 1st

– United must now concentrate on choosing what players to protect in the upcoming Expansion Draft on November 23rd. United academy players Hamid, Andy Najar, Conor Shanosky and Ethan White do not have to be protected

Tired United offer little resitance in 1-0 loss to Sporting Kansas City

With D.C. United playing twice on the road within a span of four days and their first game in Chicago being a fortunate draw, it was no surprise to see United wilt in the Kansas City heat and humidity as they lost 1-0 to Sporting Kansas City tonight at LIVESTRONG Park in Kansas City, Kansas. The loss snapped United’s seven-game unbeaten streak on the road and their current four-game unbeaten streak.

With a win tonight, United could have leapfrogged Sporting into third place and an automatic playoff position. As it happened though, Sporting increased their playoff lead over the Black-and-Red to a five-point margin. United does have games in hand on every team in the Eastern Conference, but with United currently on a 70-match streak of not having won back-to-back games at any point, games in hand are essentially useless. At this point it seems the Black-and-Red would have better chances of winning cash bingo games.

Kei Kamara’s 19th minute blast was more than enough to see off a clearly tired United outfit. Head Coach Ben Olsen made a number of changes to the lineup in part due to the short time between matches and healing of some injuries. Charlie Davies and Bill Hamid were left off the team roster altogether to rest their respective injuries while Joe Willis, Josh Wolff, Santino Quaranta and Blake Brettschneider made starts. Brettschneider had United’s best chance of the evening to score but was denied by Jimmy Nielsen’s diving save in the 40th minute to keep the home side up 1-0 heading into halftime.

After halftime, Olsen subbed in Dwayne De Rosario in an effort to help spur a pretty anemic United attack. The move did not work as United were as toothless in the second 45 as they were in the first and suffered their first road loss since April 29th in Houston.

United now turn their attention towards a home match this Saturday evening against the Portland Timbers. If United have any hope of catching up with the rest of the Eastern Conference, they need to win that match against the expansion Timbers.