Eight games into their 2014 campaign, it’s safe to say that D.C. United may be one of Major League Soccer’s biggest surprises.
United – not far removed from being the Eastern Conference’s doormat and one of the worst squads in MLS history – have certainly exceeded the expectations of most, finding a way to win games while the thoroughly overhauled squad builds chemistry.
Saturday’s 3-2 loss to the Portland Timbers, however, was perhaps a bit of a reality check.
"We pissed that game away,” United head coach Ben Olsen said after the defeat.
Though United twice came back from a goal down – using goals from midfielder Davy Arnaud and left back Cristian Fernandez to level the match in the first and second halves, a late dagger from Maximiliano Urruti would send D.C. home without points, a tough pill to swallow.
"There was a lot of good in regards to this group. A lot of good,” continued Olsen. "Today, starting the game wasn’t good enough, set-pieces weren’t good enough for us, and the way we managed the game, once again, in the end was amateur.
"We take a game where we definitely should get a point, if not three, and turn it into a loss. Again, there’s a lot of character and a lot of positives with our group, but we cannot go on the road and have these cardinal sins.”
United’s matchup with Portland had let-down game written all over it. A confident D.C. entered Providence Park riding a series of unexpectedly positive results; the Timbers entered it badly needing a win. Though D.C. can take some comfort in a resilient performance, the loss also exposed one of United's key weaknesses – Urruti’s late strike was the third goal the club has given up in the last five minutes of a match in 2014, certainly a disheartening statistic.
“I’m disappointed right now,” reflected D.C. midfielder Davy Arnaud, "because I think we were worth at least a point tonight. To give up a goal that late after you’ve battled back twice, in a tough place to play, against a good team, is not easy to swallow.”
United will return to the District on Sunday and begin preparations for their next match, a road clash against Philadelphia. It goes without saying that game management – in particular in the later stages of a match – will be a point of discussion during the build-up.
“The biggest thing we can do now is watch video and learn from the mistakes,” added United center back Bobby Boswell.
"It felt like we could have done more and gotten more out of this game. That’s what you want out of your group, but it still stings right now.”