The last time D.C. United played under the lights at Red Bull Arena, a saved penalty kick loomed large in helping them advance to the Eastern Conference Final.
That was back in November, when DC 'keeper Joe Willis saved Kenny Cooper’s re-taken penalty to help United win a wild postseason affair against New York.
In Saturday night’s regular season match between the I-95 rivals, the stakes weren’t nearly as high as they were last November, but a missed PK again proved the difference-maker as United lost for the 18th time in 26 matches and were again left searching for answers as to why the club continues to struggle to secure results.
Captain Dwayne De Rosario’s 73rd-minute penalty kick, an attempt that would have leveled the score in United’s eventual 2-1 loss, was saved by New York goalkeeper Luis Robles, another in a long line of frustrating occurrences for the league's worst team in 2013.
“[I’m] disappointed in myself that I missed that penalty shot at a time like that,” De Rosario said. “I guessed right, I hit it on frame but still, at a time like that I think should bury it.”
United have four more league matches remaining before their biggest match of the year, the US Open Cup final against Real Salt Lake on Oct. 1.
“Players have short memories, we’ll bounce back,” said DC coach Ben Olsen. “It’s a tough loss tonight. Again, I feel like we deserved a little bit more, but in a day or two they’ll be over it and we’ll get back to work.”
After the match, Olsen suggested he might have pushed his club too hard during the previous week of training and that could have contributed to a rather sluggish first half.
“We were exhausted,” Olsen said. “Judging the legs that we had toward the end, I think I might have worked them a bit hard this week and I’ll take some blame for that. But the second half, the character that we showed, I was really happy with it.”
In March, DC came away with a 0-0 result from an afternoon meeting at RBA that also was nationally televised, despite being thoroughly outplayed in the contest. On Saturday, United were far more complimentary of their effort in a losing effort since the attack was threatening and DC nearly capitalized on a number of close chances – especially ones off the head of Luis Silva and the foot of Lewis Neal.
Regardless, another thrilling match again ended in defeat for United. They’ll have four remaining chances to attempt to win their first league match on the road this season.
“We just have to stay in it,” said midfielder Perry Kitchen. “It’s very hard to do at this point but we’ve got to keep grinding and staying at it.
“Ultimately we have a championship game coming up that we are trying to prepare for so, all these games leading up to it are important. As much as it stinks that nothing is going our way in the league, we just have to stay positive and try to figure it out.”
Nick Cammarota covers D.C. United for MLSsoccer.com.