At halftime of the Philadelphia Union’s 7-0 drubbing of D.C. United on Friday night, D.C. legend turned ESPN analyst Ben Olsen stood looking bewildered as he and colleagues Jon Champion and Taylor Twellman absorbed the remarkable 45 minutes that had transpired.
A concerned Champion looked at Olsen and asked, at least half-seriously: “Do you need a hug?”
That five-goal, first-half onslaught en route to D.C.’s worst loss in club history (and one of the worst in league history) will hurt most connected to the Black-and-Red, and certainly Olsen, D.C. United boss for a decade and star midfielder for more than a decade before that.
“It was an embarrassing performance,” said interim D.C. coach Chad Ashton, who was once Olsen's loyal assistant and is now in his second stint as a caretaker manager after Hernan Losada's departure on April 20.
“They out-competed us, they out-worked us, they out-played us, they out-wanted us," Ashton continued. "I don’t have a lot of explanations. It’s embarrassing. I apologize to our fans. I apologize to our management. I apologize for such a poor performance.”
At the time of Losada's exit, D.C.'s front office indicated Ashton would be given the 2022 season to audition for the permanent job. But earlier Friday, British outlets reported former England star turned D.C. player Wayne Rooney could become the club's next manager, and Twellman on ESPN added that D.C. had reached out to the one-time MLS forward. Rooney, 36, spent 2018-19 in the nation's capital before returning home and most recently coaching lower-division side Derby County.
Only four days earlier, D.C. had hammered Orlando City SC, 5-3, in central Florida on Taxi Fountas’ first hat trick in MLS. That pushed their only Designated Player into Golden Boot presented by Audi contention and added to a budding Newcomer of the Year case.
But at Subaru Park, to kickstart Week 19 and Heineken Rivalry Week, D.C. conceded four times before registering their first shot attempt. And the final score might have even been worse without a saved second-half penalty by goalkeeper Rafael Romo on Philly striker Julian Carranza (who finished with a hat trick) and a stunning first-half miss of an open goal from Union right back Nathan Harriel.
Defender and captain Steve Birnbaum pushed back against the suggestion that this was a time for encouragement and reminders that the same club had played at an impressive level just four days earlier.
“Maybe it’s not a lift up, maybe it’s being a little tougher on guys and calling people out, making sure we’re holding everyone responsible," Birnbaum said. "Because, you know, we can’t keep putting in performances like this. It’s unacceptable.”
The defeat was D.C.’s third by three or more goals this season after losing 3-0 at the Columbus Crew in late April and 4-1 at the New York Red Bulls in late May. They're three of 10 losses this year, contributing to a 13th-place spot in the Eastern Conference table as the Secondary Transfer Window gets underway.
It may be a small consolation, but D.C. are at least heading home to Audi Field next to face Columbus on Wednesday night (8 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+). They won’t have to spend too long processing a massively lackluster showing.
“It’s hard to think about the game Wednesday right now,” Birnbaum admitted. “I think there’s going to be a lot of self-reflection from this game. From everyone.”