Instead of hosting Toronto FC in the Eastern Conference’s first round, United will visit BMO Field on Oct. 19 at noon. Instead of capping a resurgent month with three points, D.C. took just one, despite ideal circumstances.
The sides finished tied for fourth place with 13-10-11 records, but Toronto boasted a better goal differential (plus-five vs. plus-four). In the regular season, the teams played to two ties: 0-0 in Ontario and 1-1 in Washington.
“When that final whistle blew,” goalkeeper Bill Hamid said, “the frustration was there.”
There was one notable triumph: United tied the league record for consecutive shutouts (five), stretching the team’s unblemished run to 504 minutes.
“It’s an impressive feat, and one that I am proud of,” Olsen said. “It’s hard to celebrate it right now because of the disappointment we won’t come back here and reward the fans.”
That’s because United was blanked for the second consecutive time and 11th overall, squandering 33 shots. (Only three were on goal and one hit the post.) Only Columbus, Cincinnati and Vancouver scored fewer than United’s 42 goals this season.
The outcome also effectively ended Wayne Rooney’s Audi Field tenure before he returns to English soccer. Rooney missed Sunday’s match with a yellow-card suspension, and should United beat Toronto, it would visit top-seeded New York City FC in the conference semifinals.
Another upset would result in hosting the Eastern final only if the No. 6 New York Red Bulls or No. 7 New England Revolution also advance that far.
“We’ve been tough to beat on the road,” Olsen said of United’s 6-6-5 away record, third best in MLS. “Hopefully, that continues. It’s going to have to.”
Each side hit the post in the early stage: Ulises Segura’s deflected effort caromed off the right upright and Roland Lamah’s header slammed off the left.
The match took a seismic turn late in the half with two Cincinnati ejections and a D.C. disallowed goal. Two of the three decisions required the video assistant referee.
It began in a harmless spot in front of the team benches when Silver Spring native Joe Gyau caught Segura in the upper thigh with a high challenge, tearing his shorts and earning a red card from referee David Gantar.
In an ensuing scuffle, Lamah grabbed Felipe Martins by the throat — Gantar did not see it but video assistant Rosendo Mendoza did., and Lamah was shown red.
On the restart, Steve Birnbaum headed the ball to Segura for a close-range finish, but video showed the Costa Rican offside.
A two-man advantage is unusual; a two-man advantage for more than half the match is almost unheard of. After intermission, United did not do much with it.
Eleven ineffective minutes passed before Olsen added someone with the capacity to unlock Cincinnati’s bunkered resistance: long-lost playmaker Luciano Acosta. Olsen did not wait much longer to exhaust his substitutions, adding attack-minded defender Leonardo Jara and striker Ola Kamara.
In his longest stint in six weeks, Acosta injected energy and skill. He had three chances to crack the deadlock, but sent Paul Arriola’s cross over the crossbar, had a header saved by Przemyslaw Tyton and whistled a 20-yarder over the crossbar.
Cincinnati (6-22-6) was more organized and composed with nine men than at full strength, though attacking was an afterthought. It sat back, compressing space from 30 yards and in.
At every chance, the visitors wasted time. United vented at both Gantar and the Cincinnati players for the delays.
“It got a little bit ridiculous,” Olsen said. Gantar “let them get away with it. It wasn’t a fun half to watch that, but we still have enough chances. That is not an excuse.”
Seven additional minutes were enough for threats by Russell Canouse, Joseph Mora and Acosta — but not a precious goal.
“It sucks right now, but we’re in the playoffs and everyone has a chance,” Birnbaum said. “Go up there [to Toronto] and get a result, and we’re flying.”
Notes: U.S. national team Coach Gregg Berhalter was in attendance, one day before his squad will open training camp at George Mason University leading to the Nations League match against Cuba on Friday at Audi Field. Arriola was among 26 players named to the squad.