Despite a brave effort late in the game to try and pull out a win, D.C. United had to settle for a 1-1 tie with the visiting Portland Timbers on Wednesday, and with it, see the club’s playoff hopes dashed.
The talismanic Dwayne De Rosario scored his league-leading 16th goal to end a four-game-losing streak for United (9-12-12, 39 points), but it wasn’t enough.
Gifted with three consecutive home games to end its regular season, the D.C. club needed back-to-back wins - something the team has failed to do in more than 2 1/2 years - in order to earn a postseason spot. A dramatic loss to the Chicago Fire last Saturday, combined with the Portland tie, renders the club’s game against Sporting Kansas City at RFK Stadium on Saturday a formality, with only pride on the line. The United players will then head for their holidays and reflect on another losing season.
“I am extremely proud of the guys,” coach Ben Olsen said Wednesday night. “Extremely disappointed that we havent made the playoffs. Again, I apologize to the fans and the organization. Ill take the blame for it. I can promise you Ill get better as a coach, and this team will get better.”
Questions will be asked and fans will demand accountability, but it’s unlikely any heads will roll in the front office. Players such as Clyde Simms, Marc Burch, Santino Quaranta, Josh Wolff, Joseph Ngwenya, and even Charlie Davies, who notched an impressive 11 goals after coming back from serious injuries suffered in a car crash, will be wondering about their roles with the team.
Once the flagship team of Major League Soccer after winning four MLS Cups, United will miss the postseason for the fourth consecutive year.
“We said at the beginning that this is a year to really find out who we are,” Olsen said. “What young guys we have, what guys we can rely on, and this is a process. Its tough to sit here and talk about that because of the disappointment, but I still think theres a lot to this team. A couple additions, get healthy next year, and I think we are going to be a tough team to beat.”
What is clear is that the team lacked consistent form, failed to secure points at home, committed rookie defensive errors and developed a habit of conceding goals late in games.
Still, United did better than last year when the team suffered its worst season (6-20-4, 22 points). And there were some bright spots. The club found a solid goalie in Bill Hamid, and De Rosario, who joined the team in July from the New York Red Bulls recorded 13 goals and seven assists for the team. With his 16 goals overall - and possibly more if he plays Saturday - De Rosario should certainly be a league MVP candidate.
“It was disheartening,” De Rosario said after the tie. “It is, but it isnt [disheartening] in the sense that we showed some fight. … It was another learning opportunity for a lot of us. Were happy that the supporters stuck with us through the whole game, that means a lot to us as players.”
A number of key injuries didn’t help United in their campaign. The club’s designated player, midfielder Branko Boskovic, tore his ACL and United were forced to play a number of young players in its defense because of injuries to veterans Jed Zayner, and more importantly, Dejan Jakovic. But perhaps the biggest blow came when midfielder Chris Pontius, 24, broke his leg in a game against Chivas USA last month. Pontius (seven goals, five assists) was one of the club’s most consistent players and United never recovered from the offensive void he left. Since his injury, United have gone 1-5-2.