D.C. United struggle with unfamiliar playing surface at FedEx Field in scoreless Columbus Crew draw

LANDOVER, Md. – D.C. United took on the Columbus crew on Saturday evening in a local stadium painted with a familiar burgundy-and-gold color scheme, but their performance was hampered by some foreign aspects of a facility built for the gridiron sort of football.

FedEx Field, home of Washington’s NFL team, is a modern venue bedecked with the colors that have faded over the years into varying shades of orange and yellow at venerable RFK Stadium. The colossal stadium nonetheless offered up some quirks in United’s 0-0 draw with the Crew, the second half of a Road to Brazil doubleheader that opened with defending world champions Spain's 2-0 win over El Salvador, an entertaining affair that saw La Roja emerge victorious via a David Villa brace.

Though this wasn’t the first time United have visited FedEx – the club has played international friendlies against Chelsea and Real Madrid here in the past several years – the nightcap was a change of pace for United, who’ve grown accustomed to playing their home matches on one of MLS’ roomier pitches at RFK.

The field at FedEx was a good deal narrower and drier and at times seemed to stifle the attacks of Columbus and D.C. alike.

“[The field] was slow, thick, it’s not built for soccer,” said United coach Ben Olsen after the match. “It’s built for big boys that run around and tackle each other. The ball rolled a little funny, but both teams had to deal with it. It didn’t make for the most attractive soccer but we had our looks.”

United forward Eddie Johnson, who left the game in the  58th minute after rolling his ankle on the turf, agreed, but still felt his team should've won a match in which his strike partner Fabian Espindola could not dispatch a penalty kick awarded in second-half injury time.

“Yeah, it was [dry],” he said. “We knew that yesterday when we trained here, so we really did some passing exercises to try and get adjusted to the field. It was wet for a little bit but then it got dry.

“In all, we deserved the three points, to be honest.”

Nobody in an animated United locker room after the match was blaming the pitch for the loss – most players mirrored Johnson’s sentiments and spoke of a handful of missed opportunities and breaks.

D.C. captain Bobby Boswell also commented on the playing surface, noting that the smaller dimensions at FedEx reminded him of one of his old stomping grounds: Robertson Stadium, the former home of the Houston Dynamo.

“The grass and everything was great – but it’s just so narrow. It kind of reminds me of a place I used to play,” Boswell said with a laugh. “It definitely made the game a little different – took the outside guys out of it and clogged the middle.

“It’s fun to be a part of these things – would’ve been more fun with a win, I guess. It’s not the greatest night, but we’ll take it.”