As was the case twice in the previous two months, D.C. United again saw a would-be victory snatched from their hands late Saturday night.
This time, however, the result is a bit more palatable as they entered a hostile environment at JELD-WEN Field and were able to escape with a 1-1 draw that helped maintain their fourth-place standing in the Eastern Conference as they push toward earning a playoff berth for the first time since 2007.
“A tie is probably fair when all is said and done,” United coach Ben Olsen told reporters after the match. “It’s disappointing when you have the lead and give it up, and only get one point out of it. I thought we gave them a lot of their chances, which is disappointing.”
Had it not been for the standout play of goalkeeper Bill Hamid (four saves) and the increasingly solid backline, United’s fate might have been worse as D.C. again failed to generate much of an offensive attack against the Timbers – nine attempts on goal, two shots on target – without captain Dwayne De Rosario.
Still, D.C. haven’t lost in four matches since De Rosario’s injury and gained a result for only the sixth time this season on the road. Coming off a 1-0 win in Philadelphia, it’s the second time this campaign United earned points in consecutive road matches.
“It’s a long way, and to come away with something is a positive especially with our road form this year,” Olsen said. “It hasn’t been stellar, but as of late we got a win and a tie on the road so, it’s something to build on.”
In what was perhaps a bit of karmic retribution for the controversial encroachment call against Hamdi Salihi on Dwayne De Rosario’s would-be go-ahead penalty kick in a 1-1 draw against Philly in August, United were awarded a penalty on a questionable handball ruling from linesman Craig Lowry in the 60th minute and Chris Pontius converted his club-leading 12th goal of the year.
After recording back-to-back 1-0 shutouts, D.C. were unable to hold onto this 1-0 lead as Bright Dike’s marvelous chip over Hamid ended United’s shutout streak at 315 minutes.
Having spent the week’s training sessions discussing the importance of tightening the club’s end-game performance, Dike’s equalizer was a blow to United’s defense.
“We have to find ways now to kill games off and we’ve done a pretty good job of that as of late,” Olsen said, “but it will help if we can find a way now to get the second [goal] when we do have the lead and teams are pushing.”
Though United again didn’t look particularly sharp, it was the fourth-straight gritty effort from a side very much in position to break its postseason drought.
“We control our own destiny,” Pontius said. “That’s what you want, so we’re in a position to do that.”