D.C. United have had no problems getting results without Dwayne De Rosario. But without him, Chris Pontius, Brandon McDonald, Marcelo Saragosa, Bill Hamid and Andy Najar? That, it turns out, is too much to overcome.
While United held their own for the first half at the Houston Dynamo on Sunday, the home side rallied for three second-half goals against a beleaguered D.C. squad to grab a 3-1 win in the first leg of the Eastern Conference final.
Now, United must grab a two-goal win in Game 2 on Sunday at RFK Stadium (4 p.m., NBCSN) to force overtime, or a three-goal triumph to claim the series altogether. It’s certainly doable considering D.C. finished its 17-game home slate with a plus-20 goal differential, while Houston wrapped its road schedule with a minus-12 mark.
Much will depend on the health of United’s players. With a full week of rest, Pontius, McDonald and Saragosa could very well be back. Hamid will be eligible to return from suspension. And, of course, De Rosario seems braced for a role off the bench as he continues to recover from the sprained MCL he suffered in mid-September.
Here are some more notes and observations:
— Yes, that should have been a red card on Andre Hainault for the defender’s take-down of Raphael Augusto. With Augusto in alone on goalkeeper Tally Hall, Hainault wrapped his legs around Augusto and pulled the midfielder to the turf. It was the denying of an obvious goal-scoring opportunity, and the scissor kick may have constituted dangerous play in its own right.
Here’s United coach Ben Olsen’s take: “What do you want me to say? Do you know what I mean? What can I say? Everybody in the stadium, everybody on our bench, everybody on their bench, everybody at home saw that it’s a red card.” And here’s referee Ricardo Salazar’s justification: “Based on my angle, there was contact by both players and, therefore, no offense was identified.” Salazar also said it wouldn’t have been a red anyway because “it is possible there were other defensive players in the area.”
— The criticism of the playoff scheduling seems a bit harsh. After the game, Olsen said the league should take a look at the way the postseason is set up, explaining, “We’ve got guys going down left and right. And it’s not an excuse. But at some point, it’s just survival.”
True. But United were playing their third game in eight days — a very common setup worldwide. The Dynamo, meanwhile, were playing their fourth game in 11 days — their punishment for being a lower seed. With Adam Moffat joining Ricardo Clark and Calen Carr among those sidelined, Houston had its fair share of setbacks to cope with.
— As United depart Houston, one D.C. player is headed there. Suspended defender-midfielder Andy Najar has been called up for Honduras’ friendly Wednesday against Peru at BBVA Compass Stadium. Najar on Sunday will serve the second match of his additional two-game suspension for throwing the ball at the referee in the first leg against New York.