Chris Rolfe is injured. Fabian Espindola was out on a red card suspension. Eddie Johnson was out while recovering from a concussion. The team had just played earlier in the week down in Jamaica. They are in the midst of an erratic road trip bouncing all over the country. Is that it? Have I gotten all the excuses out of the way?
Okay, now let’s talk about why I am pushing the panic button on DC United’s run into the playoffs. Fighting back to recover from a two goal deficit, taking the lead only to lose it again and having to settle for a draw against Chicago simply should not be acceptable for this team. Particularly, when it comes on the heels of a loss to New York and a very lackluster draw with Vancouver.
The Chicago Fire have been known all year to give up leads and settle for ties and they are fighting for a playoff position. The top team in the East should not be accepting of the same strategy. All year I have been praising the efficiency and mental toughness of this team as they have had an incredible bounce back season, but now I am wondering where that team is. They certainly were not on the field in Chicago tonight.
This game devolved into a pushing and shoving match early on and never really let up. Thirty-five fouls were committed between the two teams, with four yellow cards handed out and two penalty kicks awarded. Calling this game sloppy is being too kind.
Time after time I have seen DC United survive an early onslaught from a team, absorbing the pressure but not collapsing. Tonight when the pressure came, DC crumbled taking foolish penalties and giving up bad possessions. Lately, DC has been playing down to the competition and walking away with draws instead of wins. Then they are unable to get back up to the level of the good teams and are suffering loses.
DC United should be contending with Seattle for the Supporter’s Shield but instead they are seven points behind. Part of that is because of their inability to win on the road against the top Western Conference teams (RSL, LA Galaxy, etc.) and part of it is leaving too many points on the pitch in match ups like tonight.
Is it the end? Am I giving up on DC United’s chances at an MLS Cup? No, not yet. I am simply beginning to worry. I understand that many of the excuses listed at the beginning of this post are legitimate and it is a tough stretch for the team. However, a downward trend can be difficult to correct and it concerns me that too often DC United falls into lapses of sloppy play.
With only a handful of games remaining in the season, now is not the time to be entering a slump. It is the time to be coming out of one. DC United has shown flashes of their old selves, even in this game when they regained the lead, but it has been awhile since it was seen for the whole 90 minutes. If fatigue is a factor, I wonder if it is just dead legs or if there is not some mental fatigue coming into play here as well. Has Ben Olsen pushed his team so hard to make up for last year that they are just spent? I doubt it but the thought has crossed my mind.
The hard truth for DC United is that the schedule is not going to get any easier. Philadelphia is coming to town next, followed by Sporting KC, than a trip to Houston. Now is the time to right the ship and head into the playoffs on a roll. Ben Olsen needs to rally the team and return the focus and resilience the team displayed so well just a month ago.
I pushed the panic button as a wake up call. Now is the time to get going. #VamosUnited!