Of all the things D.C. United coach Ben Olsen had to be frustrated about following Sunday’s 3-1 first leg loss against Houston in the Eastern Conference Championship, perhaps defensive breakdowns and the resulting uncharacteristic goals topped his list.
Sure, there was the no-call by referee Ricardo Salazar that could have swung the game’s momentum. Then there was the bevy of untimely injuries to key players that left United hobbled with a week to recover before Sunday's second leg. But for a team that has prided itself on playing sound, defensive soccer during the course of its now-snapped nine-match unbeaten streak, the breakdowns were a bit concerning.
“I think all three goals were preventable,” Olsen said after the match. “They were not goals we usually give up. Give them some credit, they played quick free kicks. They’ve been doing that for 10 years and have been successful at it. Brad Davis is a classy player and he knows how to do that when it’s on. That’s our fault. We were prepared for it, we knew about it and we just turned off.”
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Indeed, United were burned on Davis’ first quick free kick on the game-tying goal in the 51st minute. A breakdown in central defense led to Will Bruin scoring the go-ahead goal in the 68th minute. And a failed clearance by midfielder Raphael Augusto – making his MLS debut – led to Houston’s third goal, a neat one-two from Luiz Camargo and Kofi Sarkodie carving open the backline.
“We had a lot of energy and then a few things didn’t go our way and all of a sudden we’ve got to make three subs for injuries,” United goalkeeper Joe Willis said. “A couple goals later, and it’s almost like we didn’t know what happened.”
It’s not, however, an issue D.C. feel as if they can’t correct by Sunday’s second leg at RFK Stadium.
“We did everything we can to prepare, we just let in some weak goals,” said rookie Nick DeLeon. “We tuned out and they capitalized and that was that. They’re problems that we can fix and we’ll take care of that for the next game.”
Houston blues continue for United
With Sunday’s 3-1 loss in the books, the aftermath of playing in Houston isn’t pretty for United. In nine total trips to Houston (two at BBVA Compass Stadium), D.C. are winless (0-8-1). Alltime, the Dynamo are 10-4-2 against United as Sunday’s playoff match in Houston appeared to gas even D.C.’s healthy players.