WASHINGTON – One by one, D.C. United players marched into their RFK Stadium locker room after Saturday evening’s 2-1 loss to Columbus Crew SC clearly battle-worn.
The loss – their fourth in five matches – cost them, for now, valuable playoff position, dropping them to fourth place in an increasingly congested Eastern Conference.
But the mood wasn’t particularly dour. Though there weren’t any smiles, plenty of players and coaches alike were actually a bit encouraged by their performance against Crew SC.
“Encouraged,” D.C. head coach Ben Olsen said after the match, “but disappointed.”
"I’m not pleased with the result, that’s for sure,” Olsen continued. “But I’m pleased with our effort. We looked like ourselves for large stretches of that game, so that’s a positive. It was a better performance than the Colorado game [a 1-1 draw last week] – in a lot of ways it’s the best performance we’ve had in over two months.
“We came up against a team that’s playing very well right now – the way they pass, they become a very tough team to chase. If you do that they’re good enough to play through your pressure at times, especially as you get a little desperate and undisciplined.”
United did look promising at times.
Bolstered by the return of playmaker Fabian Espindola, D.C. were dangerous for stretches of the first half and bits of the second as well. Former Real Salt Lake forward Alvaro Saborio put in an active shift, and very well could’ve tied the game in the 85th minute, his goal disallowed by a razor-thin offside call. Finnish international Markus Halsti was steady in central midfield, and outside back Sean Franklin looked dangerous on the overlap.
For all those positives, of course, there remains the big negative: D.C. spotted Crew SC, among the hottest teams in MLS, a two-goal lead. Continuing a yearlong trend, the second of those tallies came shortly after the halftime whistle.
Still, D.C. were undoubtedly better than they have been in recent weeks; according to United’s leading scorer, attacker Chris Rolfe, D.C. were even better than they’ve been in some of their victories.
"I thought we were good,” Rolfe told MLSsoccer.com "We were as good as we’ve been, soccer-wise, in the past two months, right? Maybe even three months. I’m not disappointed in the way that we played. It’s unfortunate to lose the game, but there’s more to it. It’s one of those losses that sometimes feels a little bit better, when you look back on it, than the games you win. It was more of a complete game, it was more of a game to build off of than some of our wins that we’ve had, where we just were terrible and we come in here laughing because we ended up pulling three points out of nothing. So I don’t think tonight was a terrible result."
It wasn’t a terrible result, but certainly not what D.C. were looking for. With what’s all of a sudden become a crucial encounter against the Montreal Impact looming next weekend, United will certainly hope to build on tonight’s result – and look to emerge with some precious road points.
"Again, I think it was a good game,” said Olsen. "We had a bunch of chances, a bunch of good looks, we were in and around the 18 enough, got enough service in that might be, on another night, we get one or two goals more than we did."
“... So, again, encouraged but disappointed as [United’s players] are with the result. But there’s no time to dwell on it, we got another tough one, which is gonna have big implications next week against Montreal."