By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 4, 2009
Two matches remain for D.C. United, three if you count an international tournament game in which the prospects for success are almost as grim as the club's MLS playoff hopes. But if Saturday night's uninspiring, incoherent and uncreative performance during a 2-0 loss to Chivas USA was any indication, the 2009 season is essentially over.
United was dreadful from start to finish before a season-high 24,175 at RFK Stadium. It fell behind on an own goal in the 32nd minute, but truth be told, Chivas deserved to be ahead by that point. Jesus Padilla added the second goal eight minutes into the second half, D.C. veteran Ben Olsen was red-carded for retaliation and United (8-8-12) went out with a whimper.
"We've been saying the right things all week, and then to come out flat and them taking the game to us, it's very disappointing," said Coach Tom Soehn, who was serenaded with chants of "Fire Soehn!" by many in the club's supporters' groups. "It's disappointing on all fronts."
After starting 6-0-5 at home, United has lost three straight in league play at RFK, the first time that has happened during one season since 2000.
Chivas (12-9-5) had scored only seven goals in its previous 13 trips and been shut out in its prior three away games but attacked fluidly against a D.C. team that was a mess for 90 minutes. United had only two shots on goal (both in the first half) and didn't force Chivas goalkeeper Zach Thornton to make any difficult saves.
"It's a frustrating night," captain Jaime Moreno said. "We didn't play our best game, and that's how the year has been."
Olsen (red card) and forward Chris Pontius (yellow card accumulation) will miss the Oct. 17 match against Columbus before returning for the finale a week later at Kansas City. With other contenders collecting points Saturday, United is in dire straits.
"We are looking at everybody else, but in the end, we still have to look at ourselves," Soehn said. "It's slim chances now -- it's the reality."
United had enough early possession but lacked a penetrating run, precise cross or invasive pass to unlock Chivas's defense. Sacha Kljestan created two quality chances for Chivas with nicely weighted passes to Justin Braun, who missed the near side badly and had a close-in header interrupted by United goalie Milos Kocic.
In the 32nd minute, after Braun's 25-yarder skipped off the crossbar, Kljestan fed Maicon Santos on the left side of the box. Santos turned on Julius James and fired a 12-yard shot past the diving Kocic and off the base of the post. With Kocic stretched out on the field, the ball caromed off his back and crawled across the goal line for what was ruled an own goal.
With United's attack sputtering and the half nearing the end, Soehn replaced playmaker Christian Gómez with Moreno. Upon exiting, the Argentine appeared upset with the decision and had brief interaction with Soehn before taking a seat. By the time reporters arrived in the locker room after the game seeking comment, Gómez had already departed.
Fred entered for Thabiso Khumalo at the start of the second half, but United's disorganized play continued. In the 53rd minute, Jonathan Bornstein served a free kick from midfield toward Padilla and United defender Marc Burch in the penalty area. As the players jostled for position, the ball struck Burch, hit Padilla, appeared to glance off Burch again and fell for the Chivas midfielder to crack past Kocic.
Soehn made his final change in the 62nd minute, adding top scorer Luciano Emilio and lifting Burch. Three minutes passed before Olsen reacted to Yamith Cuesta's hard foul from behind by thumping the ball at the Chivas defender's back. It was the most accurate strike of the night by United and earned Olsen an ejection.
"I was frustrated and I lost my head for a second," he said. "I left the guys out to dry. . . . I don't know if we really matched [Chivas's] fight early on, and that was part of my frustration."
Said Soehn: "He has got to control his emotions at that point."
Shorthanded, United had little to offer -- the few chances it did create were poorly struck -- and stretched its winless streak against Los Angeles-based Chivas to five games. As the final whistle neared, the crowd voiced its displeasure again, reserving its harshest criticism for Soehn, who is in danger of missing the playoffs two straight years after guiding United to the league's best record in 2007.
"It's unfortunate you hear fans screaming for the coach because we are the guys out there," midfielder Santino Quaranta said. "We didn't do the right things. That's not Tommy. We just weren't good enough."
Notes: Midfielder Rodney Wallace served a yellow card suspension. . . . Chivas rookie Michael Lahoud, a W.T. Woodson High graduate making his sixth start, had a few dozen friends and family members in attendance.