With a visit to Vancouver next on the schedule, D.C. United remained on the West Coast following Sunday’s 3-1 loss to the Los Angeles Galaxy. Just as well. Patience-tested supporters might’ve been waiting for them with pitchforks and mock contracts ablaze at Dulles Airport.
Two losses in two matches won’t ruin a season – the opponents were the preseason favorites to meet in MLS Cup -- but the manner in which the first nine days of the campaign has unfolded is deeply troubling.
[In our Insider poll after Sunday’s match, United received a 2, 3 or 4 on a 1-10 scale from 72 percent of voters.]
Let’s review: In the opener, United presented a revamped lineup at full strength, generated no quality scoring chances and surrendered a late goal, rekindling painful memories of seasons past.
In the second outing, despite a week of preparation, United didn’t seem to realize it was playing the defending champions on their home turf. In its fourth match in 12 days, the Galaxy was ripe for the taking. Instead, United was torn apart from the start. The best scoring opportunity: Dwayne De Rosario’s 50-yarder that caught Josh Saunders off his line and sailed dangerously close to the target.
“One of the big points we talked about all week was moving the ball faster and getting into tackles and just having a bite to us,” goalkeeper Joe Willis said. “We came out slow. We showed improvement at times, but not enough.”
“The coaching staff was on us the entire time, telling us we had to be ready for this game, we have to get going,” defender Robbie Russell said. “And it’s on us that we need to be more focused.”
The only element more confounding than United’s tame performance was Ben Olsen’s lineup. Hamdi Salihi was rooted to the bench for all 90 minutes. Branko Boskovic, another designated player, and Emiliano Dudar, a offseason signing brought in for leadership and experience
the so-called defensive savior, were absent until the second half. Daniel Woolard wasn’t in uniform. Either was Josh Wolff. In fairness to Olsen, Chris Korb could win the left back spot from the average Woolard and Wolff, though not on the injured list, is working himself into form after returning from a foot ailment.
But why didn’t Salihi start?
“Maicon [Santos] had a very good week” of training, Olsen explained. In other words, Salihi didn’t.
Salihi’s benching had “nothing to do with his performance last week. Sometimes it’s good for new guys to maybe sit and watch a half and come in.”
Except Salihi didn’t come in. Olsen was planning to bring him on, but when Dejan Jakovic left at halftime with a groin injury, United had to burn an early substitution.
Olsen then turned to Boskovic to gain some possession in midfield and provide relief for the stranded De Rosario. Late in the match, Olsen chose rookie Nick DeLeon instead of Salihi. DeLeon, in his debut, did respond well by scoring a fine goal. By then, however, United was in a three-goal hole.
There were a few positives.
“DeLeon showed us he’s ready to be a professional,” Olsen said. “Joe was unbelievable.”
Willis proved again he’s a capable replacement for Bill Hamid, who, along with defensive midfielder Perry Kitchen, missed the first of probably three MLS matches while with the U.S. under-23 squad for Olympic qualifying. Should United receive overseas offers for Hamid this summer, United can draw comfort knowing Willis could step into a full-time role.
Right wing Andy Najar, a disappointment through two matches, joined the Honduras team Sunday night in the L.A. area and, like his U.S. counterparts, will miss the Vancouver match Saturday night at BC Place.
“It’s difficult,” Boskovic said. “We must stay together and think positive and try to do something the next game.”
A few facts and figures to share:
*In two matches, United has two shots on goal: Maicon Santos’s mild bid from distance in the opener and DeLeon’s late strike against the Galaxy. The Brazilian journeyman did have six of United’s 13 overall shots Sunday, but three went wide and three missed high.
*Since the previous visit to Home Depot Center, a 3-0 win over Chivas USA in September that served as Charlie Davies’s last happy moment with the club, United is 1-8-2. The lone victory: DeRo’s magical night against Real Salt Lake. In the past seven matches, DCU has scored five goals – five single-goal outings and two shutouts.
*United is 0-4-4 in its past eight meetings with the Galaxy and hasn’t beaten Los Angeles at Home Depot Center since 2005.
*According to DCU research, DeLeon is the sixth United player to score in his league debut, joining Jaime Moreno (1996), Mark Lisi (2001), Luciano Emilio (2007), Chris Pontius (2009) and Charlie Davies (2011).