By PABLO MAURER
WASHINGTON – Saturday evening’s matchup between D.C. United and the Portland Timbers was a tale of two teams headed in very, very different directions. United entered the game with only four points to their name. Portland, on the other hand, entered the match riding a 10-match unbeaten streak.
The script played out as expected. The Timbers looked organized and efficient, creating chances and finishing them. D.C. United looked disjointed and never really threatened on their way to a 2-0 loss to the Timbers at RFK Stadium.
Goals from Rodney Wallace and Darlington Nagbe provided the difference to help the Timbers push their unbeaten streak to 11 matches, the longest such streak in the league. D.C. United also continued a league-leading streak, going their 10th straight match without a win (nine of those results being losses).
Both of Portland’s goals were the result of poor marking and communication by United’s back line. Former United midfielder Rodney Wallace found himself with time and space in the 21st minute and made no mistake, drilling home a left-footed shot from some 14 yards out.
Nagbe finished the game off in the 57th minute, out-muscling D.C. centerback Brandon McDonald before collecting Ryan Johnson’s pass and firing a shot past United keeper Bill Hamid. The goal, which came against the run of play, was a back-breaker, and D.C. United seemed hapless to mount any sort of a comeback.
It was a lack of effort not lost on Head Coach Ben Olsen.
“It’s embarrassing how soft we are,” a clearly agitated D.C. United head coach Ben Olsen said after the match. “On every part of the field. The lack of anger that a few of our guys play with, the lack of a chip on some of our guys’ shoulders. It’s mind boggling to me.”
While D.C. struggled, the Timbers received some quality performances from newcomers to the starting lineup. Freddie Piquionne and newly-acquired centerback Pa Modou Kah both played well, with Kah looking like a comfortable fit playing in place of suspended starter Mamadou Danso.
More surprising than the final result were some of Olsen’s lineup choices, most notably the omission of Dwayne De Rosario from the starting lineup, and the inclusion of Carlos Ruiz.
It was Ruiz who earlier in the week went public with his complaints about playing time. Olsen responded by handing him a start, and benching former MLS MVP Dwayne DeRosario in the process.
If Olsen’s mood was dark, the angst in the locker room after the match was other-worldly. De Rosario, who entered the match mid-way through the second half, voiced his disapproval with his role as a second half sub.
“[Olsen] doesn’t think that me and Carlos can play on the same field together, so that’s the way it is. I’m not happy about that,” said DeRosario, who cracked a smile when asked whether he believed that he’d pair up well with Ruiz.
“I think if you look at our track record as goal scorers, as creators, that’s not a bad problem to have to try once.”
Ruiz, for his part, was appreciative of the opportunity he was given. When asked by the assembled media whether he thought a partnership with De Rosario could work well, he was more reserved.
“It depends what Ben wants. We aren’t young like we were a couple of years ago – so if he wants us to run up and down, up and down, it’s going to be a little bit difficult.”
Despite Olsen’s harsh words, there were certainly positives for United. They out-possessed what’s perhaps the most possession-oriented team in MLS and certainly created their share of chances. Ruiz showed a few brief flashes of creativity and fire up top; Perry Kitchen was a rock in the center of the park, as he has been all year. At the end of the day, though, the result was the same – just a third of the way through the season, United continue to watch their already slim playoff hopes rapidly disappear over the horizon.
This 2013 D.C. United team isn’t just bad – they are on pace for a historically awful season. At 1-9-2, they are averaging a scant 0.42 points per game, well below the previous MLS record of 0.52 set by the now defunct Tampa Bay Mutiny in 2001. Even worse, their offensive futility – D.C. averages just half a goal a game – would shatter the previous MLS all-time low of 0.70 goals per game set by D.C. United during their nightmarish 2010 campaign.
If D.C. United are to right the ship in any way, they will get their chance in the next month. After an opening 10 games that saw them face some of the toughest opposition in MLS- they’ll next face Chicago, Toronto and New England, who Olsen described as more “realistic” competition.
As for tonight, a disillusioned Olsen seemed eager to write the loss off. When asked “What now?” during his post-game press conference, he looked blankly off into the distance and offered a simple response.
“Go home. Hug my kids if they’re still up.”
Here are the match highlights: