WASHINGTON – D.C. United’s 3-2 loss at Portland on Saturday evening wasn’t particularly shocking. The Timbers entered the match badly needing a win, and the atmosphere at Providence Park makes nabbing a road victory a tall task for nearly every MLS opponent.
The manner in which D.C. lost the match, however, is a bit more concerning.
Four times this year, United have given up a goal in the final 10 minutes of a match. Though one of those late goals was given up against the Columbus Crew in their season opener – with United pushing forward to try to climb back into the match, an eventual 3-0 loss – the other three strikes have cost United points, one of them even coming with a man advantage.
Simply put, late-game lapses against Columbus, Chicago and Portland have cost United five points. Add those dropped points into United’s still respectable total of 11 and D.C. would be sitting atop the east, clear of current front-runners Sporting KC by two points.
United’s fitness doesn’t seem to be the root of their late-game issues – D.C. captain Bobby Boswell recently told MLSsoccer.com that he feels they may be the fittest squad he’s ever played on. And experience shouldn’t be an issue either – D.C.’s starting XI averages about 29 years in age, a good bit higher than the league average.
So what, then, is keeping United from closing games out? After United’s training session on Tuesday, a handful of D.C. players reflected on that question.
"I’m not sure what it is really,” defender Jeff Parke told MLSsoccer.com after the training session. "We’ve talked about it a few times, of course. I mean, it’s something that’s bothersome because we’re a very experienced group, and we should know how to close a game out, which we just haven’t been doing.”
Boswell has a bit more concrete of a theory. The same eagerness that’s allowed United to climb into a handful of early leads in 2014 has ended up working against them later in those games.
"We’re going over all of it,” Boswell said. “We’re watching video, we’re watching plays from before. We’re going too much I think, trying to get another goal or win the game off when sometimes we need to just not be heroes and kill the game off. We’re still pushing a bit too much sometimes – that’s the thing.”
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Maybe it only makes sense that D.C. are having a bit of trouble keeping a lead – it was something they rarely had in a 2013 campaign that saw them win only three matches.
The various speculations put forth by United’s players and coaches on Tuesday afternoon all had one thing in common: late-game breakdowns are a problem that needs to be solved, and solved quickly.
"You can look at it two ways,” said Boswell. “You can say that some of these results have been unavoidable, or you can get pissed off about it. We blame ourselves, and we know we need to do better. You can look at Xs and Os, and talk about it all you want, but at the end of the day it boils down to the 11 guys on the field taking care of business.”
Added Parke: “Obviously, we’re all hoping that this is the last time this will happen.”