Tony's Take: Mental toughness
D.C. United received some good news this past Wednesday when the Colorado Rapids defeated the New England Revolution 2-0. The upset by Colorado meant that the Revs had basically wasted their game in hand over United and that United would have a chance to overtake first place in the entire league with a victory over New England. Maybe the New England result took a little bit of focus away from this past Saturday's match against the Los Angeles Galaxy, and maybe in some small way United was looking ahead to the critical Eastern Conference meeting in Foxboro. Helpful results from around the league cannot be used as excuses for bad play, but it may have played some role this weekend for D.C.
Whatever the reason, D.C. United did not perform as expected in front of the home crowd at RFK Stadium, resulting in their fourth home loss of the season. The most recent loss was also the most frustrating for United. Earlier in the season, the team could realistically hide behind the fact that there were still a lot of games left. However, at this point of the season, there are only a handful of games left, and through its performance Saturday, D.C. gave away some of the precious points in the standings that they had recently been collecting so judiciously. The game versus the Galaxy was an important game, against a quality opponent, at home, in front of a boisterous crowd, and United did not respond.
There was poor concentration throughout the match - an early own goal conceded, an unnecessary foul in the defensive third setting up another goal, and an embarrassing breakdown only seconds after tying the match. This late in the season teams can accept certain losses, but the manner in which this loss came about was the most frustrating thing. After suffering a humbling defeat, all teams look forward to the chance to quickly get back on the field as soon as possible. D.C. has that chance on Wednesday.
D.C. United have three objectives for the remainder of the season: finish first place during the MLS regular season and claim the Supporters' Shield, win the U.S. Open Cup, and win MLS Cup. This Wednesday they have a chance to move closer to one of those goals in the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open Cup. The players and coaches do not have any time to dwell on their loss from this weekend, as preparation has already begun in earnest for the FC Dallas match this week. United seem to be much more focused on the U.S. Open Cup this year after being bounced out by the Richmond Kickers one year ago, but certainly a great deal has changed since July 2004.
D.C. United and their fans are definitely looking forward to the next League match against the Revolution. There is no disguising the stakes riding on that match, and the impact the result will have on another of the club's objectives. One thing that United may have overlooked this past weekend is that the best way to prepare for a future match is to win all the games leading up to that match. United failed to do that on Saturday, but the reactions from the players and coaches after the defeat indicate that they won't let it happen again.
Tony Limarzi is a contributor to dcunited.com. He is also the voice of D.C. United soccer, calling all of the Black-and-Red's games live on WMET.