DC United kissed the MLS Cup playoffs goodbye for the fourth straight year due to a 1-1 draw with the visiting Portland Timbers last night at RFK Stadium. United had a flurry of chances to keep their hopes alive in the final 5 minutes, but it was too little too late to salvage another dismal season.
After conceding a first half goal to Portland on a Kenny Cooper header in the 24th minute, United rallied in the second half somewhat against the run of play as league leading scorer, Dwayne De Rosario created his 16th goal of the season with a brilliant individual effort to level the match.
However, as the game and their season dwindled away, a desperate DC finally began hammering away at the Portland goal in the last 5 minutes and appeared to score the winning goal on a header from substitute Blake Brettschneider, only to see it correctly disallowed as offside.
United was also denied multiple times in a frenetic finish to the match as De Rosario rounded Portland keeper, Troy Perkins, only to see his shot to the open net blocked miraculously by a sliding defender. Brettschneider also flashed a header barely wide, and Perkins denied Joseph Ngwenya in the 94th minute with an incredible block and managed to leap back up to smother Brettschneider’s shot off the rebound to end the match and United’s playoff hopes.
Needing to win their last two games to even have hope for the playoffs, United coach Ben Olsen fielded his strongest attacking lineup, inserting Charlie Davies and Santino Quaranta, a move which pushed DeRo back to a playmaking role in midfield and sent Austin Da Luz to the bench. Olsen also brought back rookie central defender Ethan White and stayed with rookie Chris Korb at right back which allowed rookie Perry Kitchen to move up to midfield sending veteran Clyde Simms to the bench as well.
The moves appeared to pay off as United began the match with a lot more vigor than they had shown during their four game losing streak leading up to this match. Unfortunately, while the effort level was much better, the overall level of play was still as sloppy as ever with DC struggling to complete passes and suffering from almost continual turnovers.
The lone bright spot of the first half for DC was mainly from the play of Andy Najar as he earned corner kick in 10th minute that Quaranta curled to Brandon McDonald steaming in on goal, but his powerful header flew just over the bar. Then in the 34th minute, Najar danced past two defenders into the box and ripped a hard shot forcing a good save from Troy Perkins. Then two minutes later Najar ripped another hard shot from distance forcing Perkins to smother smartly as United attackers hovered ready to score any rebound.
In the 40th minute, Quaranta pulled off some similar fancy footwork to free himself deep in the Portland penalty area, but his shot flashed just wide as Wolff just missed being able to stretch and re-direct it into the net.
Portland, also needing to win to brighten their playoff hopes, wasn’t much better in a very choppy first half, but did manage the lone goal of the half in the 24th minute as DC’s poor defense was exposed yet again. Santino Quaranta allowed the Timber’s Rodney Wallace to roam freely down their left side, and Korb was late and soft on the coverage allowing the former DC defender to line up a perfect cross deep in the box to a wide open Cooper to nod easily into the net for the lead. Copper had split DC’s Brandon McDonald and White far too easily, but one wonders why Bill Hamid failed to come out and challenge a free header inside his six yard box, too.
Olsen was quick to go to his bench mere minutes into the second half inserting rookie forward Brettschneider for an ineffective Charlie Davies, who appeared to limp slightly coming off the field, and may have been injured forcing the substitution. However, the substitution did inject some life into United’s attack and put Portland on their heels for pretty much the remainder of the match as United slowly began to up the pressure.
Their perseverance was rewarded in the 74th minute as it was again DeRo, who scored his 13th goal in 17 matches for DC, who single handedly kept United’s hopes alive. After collecting an innocent ball inside the left edge of the Portland penalty area, DeRo who was well covered on the play, turned brilliantly to create space on his defender and crushed a near post shot that flashed over Perkin’s shoulder to tie the match, and touched off a fuse that inspired DC to an incredible finish to the match.
Leaving caution to the wind as United frantically attacked over the last 10 minutes, Portland was also allowed some space to create opportunities of their own, but Hamid made some of the biggest saves of his career, and United got some luck, to keep them in with a chance to pull off the win.
In the 83rd minute, Portland’s Diego Chara tormented the left side of DC’s defense and found substitute Brian Umony in the box, but his shot deflected off Hamid’s fingers and hit the underside of the crossbar before bouncing away and being cleared. In the 87th, Portland’s Bright Dike found space in the area and ripped a hard shot well blocked by Hamid.
Then in the 89th minute DC surged forward as DeRo collected a loose ball spilled by Perkins way out at the edge of the box, and he drifted a cross to Brettschneider to nod into the empty net, but he was behind the last defender and it was disallowed.
The game became even more thrilling in stoppage time as in the 93nd minute, Hamid rose to snatch away a rising shot from Jack Jewsbury tagged for the top corner of the net. Right from that Hamid rolled the ball for Korb to launch into Portland’s penalty area, where it was misplayed by the defense and dropped to DeRo who rounded Perkins easily only to see his sure winner blocked by a late arriving defender.
Then in the 94th, Kitchen sent DeRo again behind the Portland defense and he crossed the ball perfectly across the face of goal where Ngwenya was perfectly placed to tap into the open net, unfortunately Perkins scrambled back across the goal to paw away the golden chance, then sprang up to block Brettschneider’s rising shot off the rebound to end the match.
DC has now missed the playoffs for the fourth consecutive year, a feat only accomplished by two other teams in the 15 year history of the league, San Jose in 1997-2001 and Toronto currently, who have never made the playoffs in their 5 year history. This is also the 7th time since in the 11 years of this century that United has missed the playoffs after dominating the early years of the league.
DC finishes their season Saturday night in a meaningless match (for DC) against Sporting Kansas City. SKC has a chance to win the Eastern conference with a win over a deflated DC United side.
De Rosario has a good chance at the golden boot with a one goal lead over SJ’s Chris Wondolowski, the defending golden boot winner from last season, with one game to play for each. It’s possible DeRo could be considered for the league MVP but with United out of the playoffs, that chance likely is very slim although it’s tough to imagine any player more important to his team than De Rosario with 13 goals and 7 assists in 17 matches since joining the club in July.