“First half we played pretty well, and kept [Columbus] on their back foot a little,” D.C. captain Steve Birnbaum said. “But we didn’t threaten enough at the goal.”
United finished the 2016 season on a 17-game streak of scoring at least one goal a game. The last time United was blanked was July 9 against the Philadelphia Union, and the last time United went scoreless at home before the 2017 season was a 2-0 loss to New York City FC on May 8.
“I believe there are pieces in this room and it is just a tough start,” midfielder Patrick Nyarko said. “Similar start to last year. We rather have a tough start than [a tough time] when it counts.”
Despite the return of flashy midfielder Luciano Acosta, who was responsible for 11 assists and 3 goals in 2016, D.C. fell flat for the third game in a row. Acosta provide pressure-relief in the midfield, but United could not finish. Acosta created two chances in his return while Ben Olsen's team created chances that added up to an expected goals value of 1.07. In total, they have created the ninth-best chances of any team so far in MLS according to expected goals data provided by Opta.
“[For Acosta] the game comes easy to him,” coach Ben Olsen said. “He’s not going to be rusty. It is not the way he plays. The game makes sense to him and he makes everyone around him better.”
D.C. can take away a few positives from their performance against Columbus, including the efforts of offseason addition Jose Guillermo Ortiz. His give-and-go pass with Lloyd Sam in the 49th minute was one of the bright spots on the night.
“I think this was a better performance from us as a group,” defender Taylor Kemp said. “I thought our possession was better, our movement was better. But clearly we have to get better in the final third.”
Fans might be anxious for a goal, but the club doesn’t seem too worried yet, D.C. is no stranger to slow starts. Last season they started 0-2-3 before finally pulling out a 4-0 win against Vancouver Whitecaps FC.
“We were not planning for this, we weren’t planning for a slow start, but it happened,” Nyarko said. “We have to embrace it and keep moving forward. Keep working. It will come. I have been around enough to know it will eventually turn.”