D.C. United were plenty familiar with the feeling battling for a on the road, having successfully escaped Red Bull Arena earlier in March with a scoreless draw after being under siege for most of the game, and they again found themselves on the back foot with time winding on their trip to Sporting Kansas City.
However, an 89th-minute strike from Claudio Bieler deprived United of the satisfaction of a hard-earned draw on Friday night and dealt United their second-straight loss and third of the season.
“We followed our game plan pretty well,” said United midfielder Chris Pontius. “Unfortunately it comes down to one play that they made and we didn’t. It sucks because we should have come out of here with more.”
The matter at hand Friday was made doubly difficult for United as the team's sputtering offense – which has only managed to find the net twice in five games – played without a quartet of key players: Dwayne De Rosario, Nick DeLeon, John Thorrington and Lewis Neal.
De Rosario and De Leon combined to score 13 goals last season and their absence was noticeable, as United’s attack lacked rhythm without the pair in the lineup. The healthy Chris Pontius was a force on the ball for stretches, but defenders swarmed toward him every time he stepped into a dangerous area.
“It’s not easy to come in here and play well, but this was our best effort to date,” said United coach Ben Olsen. “Unfortunately we didn’t get anything out of it. I was very proud of the way they went about it. We had a long two weeks of getting back to some of our fundamentals and getting back to the right mentality to win games in this league. The way we went about the game was very good.”
D.C.'s two best chances against Sporting goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen – a strike inside the six from Lionard Pajoy in the first half and a bicycle kick from Carlos Ruiz in the second half – summed up United's high-effort, low-reward Friday night, as they weren't even counted on the scoresheet because of offside calls against the United playrs.
Other than those efforts, it was a quiet night for United’s offense and another busy outing for a sound defense which suffered from one mistake – a turnover by Marcos Sánchez leading to Bieler's goal.
“It’s frustrating,” said United defender Dejan Jakovic. “We played well defensively and were compact, and they never really broke us down. They tried long balls and playing it short. For a long time we were in great shape, so it’s really tough. Everyone played their guts out. I don’t know what else to say. It’s a tough one to swallow.”