With a back line thinned by injuries and suspension, getting a result on the road was always going to be a tough task for D.C. United. Doing so against a struggling Columbus Crew team who were, like D.C., desperate to stay in the playoff hunt, made it doubly so.
After taking a 1-0 lead in the first half against the run of play, United were unable to make the score stand up, conceding twice after the break on the way to a 2-1 at Crew Stadium.
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Failure to hold that halftime edge was a bitter disappointment after the game.
“At that point, we shut them out, we win the game,” defender Daniel Woolard told MLSsoccer.com over the phone. “You never want to give a goal back, especially at this stage in the season. We’ve got to be able to keep a clean sheet one game, and we weren’t able to do that tonight.”
With defenders Brandon McDonald, Dejan Jakovic and Ethan White all unavailable, Woolard and Perry Kitchen partnered as center backs and rookie Chris Korb slotted in on the right, his first start since June 11. Marc Burch kept his spot on the left.
For the most part, the Kitchen-and-Woolard-led back line stood up well under early pressure from Columbus, and D.C. entered the break with a deserved lead. However, Woolard - scorer of United’s only goal - was unlucky to concede an own goal early on in the second half, and Eddie Gaven’s well-taken header gave the Crew the advantage they wouldn’t relinquish.
The backline shuffle wasn’t used as an excuse for a second straight loss to an Eastern Conference foe, though.
“We’ve trained day-in and day-out with the same guys,” Woolard said. “I don’t think we can use that as an excuse, we play together every day.”
Opportunities were there for a late equalizer for D.C. through Andy Najar, who had two late chances just miss – one hit the crossbar and Crew goalkeeper Will Hesmer saved the other – but the tying goal never materialized, keeping United outside of the playoff picture.
The good news is that the team have a week-and-a-half before the next league match, allowing time for players to heal before the final road game of the season on October 12 in Vancouver. And while the playoff window is slowly closing on United, they’re not ready to panic.
“I don’t think we’re too worried,” midfielder Austin da Luz told MLSsoccer.com. “Obviously three points today would have put us in a great spot. We’ve got three home games left so I feel like it’s still in our grasp and in our control.
Travis Clark covers D.C. United, College and Youth soccer for MLSsoccer.com. You can follow him on Twitter @travismclark