United Games Playing Out Like a Weekly Drama

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

D.C. United has scored in the waning moments in three of the past five league matches, late surges that have earned a victory or tie in each game and helped propel the club into first place in MLS's Eastern Conference. But while the comebacks have provided great theater and bolstered confidence, the jubilation has been tempered by United's propensity to put itself in situations where dramatic goals are necessary.

"A lot of the year we have outplayed teams, but we have these lapses, they slip a couple goals in and we are left scrambling just to get a result," midfielder-defender Devon McTavish said yesterday. "It's been happening too often."

The latest example came Saturday at RFK Stadium. United's first-half superiority translated into only one goal. A defensive breakdown allowed Toronto to draw even and then take the lead. United tied it, but the visitors struck less than 90 seconds later to go ahead in the 87th minute. In added time, following a handball, Jaime Moreno's penalty kick salvaged a point for United (3-1-5).

Two weeks earlier, United failed to fully capitalize on several first-half opportunities at New York and watched a one-goal lead turn into a one-goal deficit before scoring twice near the end. Nine days before that turnaround, United played well at home against New England before allowing a goal after intermission and earning a tie on Ben Olsen's header in added time.

"It's a good quality to have, but we are good enough where we don't need to have that quality every game," Olsen said of United's dramatic strikes. "We shouldn't have to gut out all these ties."

United, which already has surpassed last year's tie total (four), leads the league in goals with 15 but has conceded 13, all but two in the second half. Nonetheless, D.C. is unbeaten in its past five league games and six overall.

"We're creating a lot of opportunities, especially at home, and we're not putting teams away," Coach Tom Soehn said. "It's coming back to bite us a little bit. . . . We also have to get better at eliminating our mistakes that are causing the goals."

Early in the second half of the Toronto game, United led by a goal and had yet to yield a quality scoring chance. But on Toronto goalkeeper Stefan Frei's long kick, a miscommunication between United rookie goalie Milos Kocic and central defender Dejan Jakovic allowed Dwayne De Rosario to tie the match and shift the momentum.

Later, after rookie Chris Pontius scored a tying goal for United, De Rosario took advantage of abundant space between D.C.'s midfield and back line. United responded again to claim a point in the standings, but the disappointment outweighed the euphoria in the locker room.

United probably won't have much room for error this Saturday against Western Conference leader Chivas USA (7-1-1) at Home Depot Center. Chivas has allowed just three goals and is 5-0 at home.

"We have a tendency of having a very good 25-30 minutes and, for whatever reason, can't keep our focus, especially at the start of the second half," McTavish said. "If teams can last through the first 30 minutes, they are going to come at us strong."

United Notes: Olsen did not practice yesterday and is in danger of missing his third straight game with a hamstring strain. Midfielder Andrew Jacobson, who was not in uniform against Toronto because of an ankle injury, is listed as probable.

-- Steven Goff

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