D.C. United returned to work Monday morning, 36 hours after a devastating home loss to Chicago. All things considered — the defeat, the emotions, the frustration -- the mood was surprisingly upbeat at the light training session.
The path to the MLS playoffs is straight-forward: win Wednesday and Saturday at RFK Stadium, and pray New York loses at home to Philadelphia on Thursday.
United’s inability to even salvage a draw against the Fire after relinquishing the late lead could have significant impact on the playoff chase. Even if United (38 points) were to defeat Portland on Wednesday, the Red Bulls (43) could settle for a draw in their finale. That’s because, barring a United scoring surge in its last two matches, New York would almost surely win the points tiebreaker on goal difference (+5 vs. -2 at the moment).
With a draw against Chicago and a win over Portland, United would’ve forced New York to play for a victory. Now, the Red Bulls could have the option of playing conservatively.
“At least we still have a shot,” assistant coach Chad Ashton said. “The last two days was going through the whole gamut of emotions and getting yourself back to, ‘Okay, we can still do this.’ Yeah, we need some help now. It’s not all in our hands. It’s not the most pleasant thought, but at least we still have a shot. We tried to put a smile on our face today and start to approach it as, ‘Hey, let’s take care of business Wednesday, hope for the result Thursday and then we’ll know where we are sitting going into Saturday’s match.’ ”
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*Will center back Dejan Jakovic finally return Wednesday after two months of hamstring rehab? “Maybe not,” he told me. Added Ashton: “At this point, I’d say it’s 50-50 after watching him today. It’s a tough spot for him because you haven’t played in so long and you’re not sure of your fitness, you’re not sure of your touch. To go out there and play not with supreme confidence at this time of the year, it really puts you in a tough spot.”
United’s record with Jakovic starting is 6-4-5 with a plus-4 goal difference. Without him, it’s 3-8-6 with a minus-6. In the second half of matches he hasn’t played, United has been outscored 19-8. (Thanks to DCU video/radio man Tony Limarzi for the stats.)
*With two late goals conceded Saturday, United has now allowed 12 after the 76th minute this season, tied for third most in the league. Overall, 31 of the 50 goals it has given up have come in the second half.
*Since Chris Pontius broke his leg Sept. 10, United is 1-5-1. Pontius is ahead of schedule in his rehab work — he’ll begin swimming Tuesday — and isn’t wearing a cast or wrap on his lower right leg. The only sign of injury is a bruise. However, he will not return to soccer activities for a while.
*After some players vented their frustration to reporters Saturday, the team discussed the importance of maintaining chemistry heading into the final week.
“You don’t try to get after one person or one play because, at the end of the day, it’s a compilation of plays, it’s an entire season as well,” captain Josh Wolff said. “The fashion that [the loss] happened, there is real disappoint and anger. You can understand the disappointment and the frustration, but I don’t think it’s right at any point to start pegging anybody for what’s happened. We win as a group, we lose as a group, and those [breakdowns] are just small snapshots of things that happened in both that game and this season.”
The internal discussion “was more of a reminder that, as stories are written and media is out there, just be aware we are still a group and it’s a bit of a brotherhood and you don’t throw anyone under the bus,” Wolff added. “It does absolutely no good. More importantly, look at yourself to see what you can do better to get the results.”
*Ashton was asked whether United thought time was about to expire when it threw everyone into the penalty area
, including goalkeeper Bill Hamid, on a DCU corner kick with the game tied at 1-1.
“We thought it was close. We were looking at the watches, we knew how much time. The tough part was you had the [first Chicago] goal, so now you don’t know how much [the referee] is adding. In our minds, we feel like we need to win the game to still control our own situation. Obviously, everything is a little panicked at that time. ... The tough thing on the second [Chicago goal], we had stopped the initial break. We had actually done the tough part of getting back and turning them back around. And then we tuned out for half a second and — boom — we got caught stepping and thinking they were offside, and they weren’t off.”
*According to Chicago Fire research, an MLS team has scored at least twice in added time to win a regular season match just five times in league history. Chicago has allowed it to happen twice (in 2000 against DCU and 2001 vs. Dallas) and United accomplished it again in 2003 at New England with three late goals (Eliseo Quintanilla, Dema Kovalenko and Alecko Eskandarian).
*Each of the final two matches will be shown on local TV outlets: Wednesday at 8 p.m. on Comcast SportsNet and Saturday at 7:30 on Comcast SportsNet Plus.
*Finally, Box Seats blogger Jeff Maurer offers his postgame review, diary and player ratings.