For D.C. United, the scene Wednesday night has become all too familiar.
They jumped out to a quick lead, just like they had against their two previous opponents, the New York Red Bulls and the Houston Dynamo. The San Jose Earthquakes were there for the taking, and United looked ready to add to their seven-game unbeaten streak.
Eighty-two minutes later, the score line failed to resemble anything of the sort.
Dwayne De Rosario’s stunning eighth-minute goal was merely an afterthought at halftime, as San Jose scored three times to take the lead before cruising to a 5-3 win over the Black and Red at Buck Shaw Stadium.
HIGHLIGHTS: San Jose 5, D.C. United 3
“We took our foot off the gas,” Perry Kitchen – who lined up at center back for United for a second straight game – lamented to MLSsoccer.com by phone. “Any time you score a goal, the tendency is to drop off. And I think we did that. We weren’t as focused as we should have been, and they punished us for it.”
United were without two center backs in Emiliano Dudar and Dejan Jakovic, and it showed, especially in the first half after they took the early lead. The backline for Ben Olsen’s side was out of sorts as they conceded in rapid fire to Steven Lenhart and then Chris Wondolowski in the 19th and 21st minutes, respectively.
“I think we missed a center back today,” Olsen told reporters. “And that’s not against [Kitchen] or Robbie [Russell], but they’re not center backs. [Dejan Jakovic and Emiliano Dudar] would have helped against a big fella like Lenhart, who had a good day. They were opportunistic – when they had good looks, they did well with them.”
Both Kitchen and Russell were called upon to partner Brandon McDonald (above, right) in the heart of the defense against the Quakes. And though both have limited experience playing the position, it was clear that neither could compete with the combination of Wondolowski and Lenhart.
“They are a good duo in this league, and we didn’t get it sorted out,” Kitchen said of the brace-scoring Quakes forwards. “They are tough to play against, but saying that, I think it took us too long to get it figured out.”
Not all was lost for United at the conclusion of the first half. They began to create some chances at the other end, and Daniel Woolard pulled a goal back for D.C. in the second half, meeting an Andy Najar cross at the far post with a diving header to give the side a chance to get something from the game.
“We didn’t think it was over going into the second half,” Kitchen added. “We wanted to come out and match their intensity and match their energy. We did a decent job at it, but they still ended up with two goals. It was one of those games where things didn’t go our way, and they punished us.”
The game went pear-shaped for United at that point though, as within 10 minutes from time, Wondolowski and Lenhart found the back of the net again to give San Jose an unassailable three-goal lead.
Hamdi Salihi gave D.C. a glimmer of hope with his first MLS goal in the dying stages of the game. It wasn’t quite enough, but it showed that this United side wasn’t willing to keel over for a superior team on the night.
“I was disappointed in the loss, but there was a lot of fight in this team,” Olsen said. “I love the character of this team. There are a bunch of guys who don’t know how to quit. We still have to learn some lessons, but I’m still proud of the guys tonight.”