By PABLO MAURER
WASHINGTON – There were plenty of interesting storylines to follow heading into Saturday night’s encounter between D.C. United and Toronto FC. TFC’s front office is led by Kevin Payne, who less than a year ago was calling the shots at United. On the sidelines, Toronto’s head coach is also a former United man, having hoisted the 2004 MLS Cup while wearing the black and red.
The real storyline, though, was a far more simple one. Most of the 13.846 in attendance wanted the answer to one simple question: with a combined record of 2-17-8, which of these two teams is worse?
Based on the scoreline, 2-1 in favor of Toronto FC, the answer would seem to be D.C. United, who continue to wallow in the Eastern Conference basement, and haven’t won a league match since early March. Toronto moves to 2-7-5, five points clear of last place and just one point shy of 7th place Chicago.
“We didn’t have a good game,” United head coach Ben Olsen lamented after the match. “We just didn’t look good in any facet of the game. We looked tired, they had a lot more energy than us. They were very direct, and picked up a lot of second balls; Some of our newer guys looked a little confused.”
United seized control of the match early, thoroughly outpossessing TFC through the first quarter hour of the encounter. Lionard Pajoy and Dwayne de Rosario both had early chances slip away – Pajoy’s driven cross was parried away by TFC keeper Joe Bendik in the third minute, while DeRo’s attempt from six yards out went wide some three minutes later.
D.C. would finally break through in the 19th, and they’d do it from the penalty spot. United midfielder Nick Deleon made a galloping run through midfield, making contact with TFC defender Gale Agbossoumonde just inside the area. De Rosario struck the ensuing penalty kick past the outstreched arms of Joe Bendik, giving United their first lead since March 9th.
The lead would be short lived. Former Nottingham Forrest and Cardiff City man Robert Earnshaw would find TFC’s equalizer on a set piece, taking advantage of some poor defending from Brandon McDonald and heading the ball past United keeper Bill Hamid, his sixth goal of the season. TFC would find themselves in the lead just minutes later, with United center back Daniel Woolard inadvertently heading the ball past his own keeper, again on a set piece. Woolard’s own goal is United’s third this season.
A choppy, back and forth second half saw United get its share of chances to equalize; De Rosario and Deleon combined for a near miss in the 59th minute, while second half sub Casey Townsend’s 69th minute attempt from some 20 yards out sailed inches wide of Bendik’s near post.
In the end, however, the story was the same for United, who were undone by a combination of offensive impotence and lackluster work in central defense. When asked if he had any thoughts about his club’s woes defending set pieces, United’s head coach didn’t have much to say. “Yeah, I’ve got some thoughts,” a despondent Olsen commented. “But I’m not going to talk about them right now.”
Toronto, on the other hand, played an opportunistic match and took advantage of United’s inability to defend on dead ball situations, something many of TFC’s players harped on after the match.
“We watched video of D.C. and saw they struggled a bit on set pieces,” TFC forward Luis Silva – who assisted on Toronto’s first goal – revealed post-match. “I just put the ball in a good spot, and we had people attacking it.”
At 1-11-3, United plunge deeper into the MLS history books. Their average of 0.40 points per game easily shatters the all-time MLS mark, as does their average of 0.47 goals per game. They’ll face San Jose next weekend at RFK before turning their focus back to the U.S. Open Cup, which will likely be their only shot at glory in 2013.
“After you lose so many games, it’s natural,” a dispirited Brandon McDonald said when asked if his squad had lost faith in their ability to turn things around. “The group of guys we have in this locker room though, nobody is pointing fingers at each other, nobody is blaming each other. It’s something we’ve gotta turn around; we’ve gotta keep moving.”
“I think everyone’s just shaking their heads at this point and saying ‘what the hell?’”