Two missions were playing out at RFK Stadium on Saturday night, both intended to salvage a very bad year.
On the field, D.C. United went to exhaustive lengths while shorthanded the entire second half to earn a 1-1 draw with MLS-best Toronto FC and snap a six-game losing streak before a crowd of 16,444.
Off the field, a series of roster moves were beginning to take shape before Wednesday’s trade and transfer deadline.
On Friday, United (5-14-4) acquired Bolivian forward Bruno Miranda, who, at age 19, is pegged to contribute next year.
Meanwhile, the club is on the verge of adding Hungarian national team midfielder Zoltan Stieber from Kaiserslautern, a German second-flight club. With financial terms all but set — the transfer fee and salary are slated to exceed $1 million apiece — Stieber arrived in Washington on Saturday and attended the match.
The big prize, though, would be two-time Chilean World Cup member Gary Medel, a defensive midfielder and defender at Inter Milan. A source close to the situation said United increased its contract offer to $10 million over two seasons — an astounding amount, given its frugal spending in recent years — in an effort to beat Turkish club Besiktas for his services.
It would also have to purchase his rights from Inter Milan, which is co-owned by United’s primary investor, Erick Thohir.
Medel, 30, was expected to decide by Sunday night.
In case the Medel deal doesn’t happen, United has kept contact with other targets.
“There’s still a lot of things playing out over the next couple days, both within the league and out,” Coach Ben Olsen said. “You’ll certainly see a new player or two.”
Before United can integrate new players, it had the daunting task of clinging to a 1-0 lead with 10 men after Lloyd Sam was red-carded in the 44th minute. Kofi Opare had provided the lead with a sixth-minute header.
United conceded the equalizer on an own goal in the 52nd minute but showed the character and poise to thwart Toronto (12-3-8) for what seemed like hours.
Toronto’s lineup featured three U.S. national team players — Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore and Justin Morrow — as well as MLS’s most dangerous attacker, Sebastian Giovinco, and the league’s co-leader in assists, Victor Vazquez.
Beginning a stretch of five home dates over six matches, United hummed with energy and menace from the start. Toronto, meanwhile, didn’t seem interested.
After several genuine threats, D.C. deservedly went ahead when Opare rose above a crowd in the heart of the penalty area and headed in Sam’s corner kick for his first goal of the year (third career).
A shock deficit figured to awaken the mighty visitors, but United continued probing in the attack while remaining composed in defense. When trouble arose — a 28th-minute through ball liberated Giovinco in the box — Bill Hamid extinguished the threat.
Before halftime arrived, United’s challenge grew when Sam was sent off by referee Allen Chapman for a hard challenge on Chris Mavinga in front of the D.C. bench. Aside from leaving his team shorthanded, Sam will miss next Saturday’s home match against Real Salt Lake.
“I can’t dispute it too much,” he said. “Stupid to put my team in that situation.”
The shortage was glaring after intermission as Toronto hoarded possession and, thanks to a D.C. folly, knotted the score.
Jared Jeffrey’s clearing attempt deep in the box struck teammate Steve Birnbaum and squirted past Hamid. The own goal was given to Birnbaum, but Jeffrey, who had recorded an own goal at Minnesota last weekend, was largely responsible.
Badly outmanned, United bunkered most of the second half and allowed few serious threats. Despite claiming 80 percent of possession after intermission, Toronto did not manage a shot on target. (The own goal doesn’t count as a shot.)
Opare and Birnbaum tightened the middle and late substitute Chris Odoi-Atsem, a rookie defender from Maryland, did outstanding work on the right side.
Amid the adversity of a game and a season, Olsen said: “It would’ve been easy for these guys not to be selfless and disciplined in the second half and throw their hands up because there have been a lot of things that haven’t gone our way this year. But they didn’t.”