Just 11 minutes into their bought with the Philadelphia Union, D.C. United found themselves down by two, a particularly deep hole for a club that had only scored as many in its first six matches. Though they struck back, United's newly-awakened attack proved unable to overcome the early deficit as D.C. picked up its fifth loss of the season, falling 3-2 at RFK Stadium.
Jack McInerney started the goal parade off early on a through ball from Conor Casey. DCU defenders Brandon McDonald and Dejan Jakovic converged on the forward but were unable to stop him from getting a shot off that gave the Union a 1-0 lead just seven minutes into the contest. Four minutes later Casey struck again, this time with his own dagger. Former United midfielder Danny Cruz (traded last summer for Lionard Pajoy) drove down the sideline and sent a perfect centering pass to Casey, who sent it home for the early 2-0 lead.
"We just didn't start the game right," said Chris Pontius. "You can't put yourself down 2-0, especially at home and allow them to sit back."
United wouldn't shrink away from the challenge, however. McDonald delivered a beautiful pass to Dwayne De Rosario, who played it deep toward the goal line before passing it back to Perry Kitchen, who pulled the trigger. The goal, Kitchen's second of his career, ended a two-game scoreless drought and put United within one.
The buzz from the goal was killed less than ten minutes later as McInerney struck again. Though United pressed, including a pair of decent looks from both Pontius and McDonald, DCU went to their locker room at the half down 3-1.
United's side of the Cruz trade struck pay dirt in the 48th minute when Pajoy got his head on a well-placed lob from Daniel Woolard, once again putting the Black-and-Red within one. Despite their ability to match their season goal total in one contest, United's offense could not overcome the effects of allowing three goals on the Union's first three strikes on target.
"We're having trouble putting together full games where the offense is doing their part and the defense is doing what they do. That's kind of been the theme," said head coach Ben Olsen. "I thought offensively we created a lot of chances and we were dynamic at times so that's a positive but the way we started the game: that's unacceptable. It's very alarming that we started the way we started in the situation that we're in right now.
"It was a good week of training. It was a good vibe in the locker room. Focus seemed to be there. It doesn't take much. I wouldn't say 11 players didn't have focus from the start. We fouled up in early play. We gave a cheap one away and they caught us on the counter and we didn't do well after that between Brandon and Dejan. Those guys have been pretty good for us so far this year so for me to sit here and cane them is not fair."
Both coach and players alike were at a loss to explain the early miscues and unbalanced overall performance tonight.
"We're doing it to ourselves," said McDonald. "They prepare us up and down, right and left. We know what we're supposed to be doing but it's like we can't get it like 100-percent all on the same level. You saw it today. It's like six minutes in and what the hell is going on?"
"I think there'd be a lot of bleeps if I gave my thoughts," said De Rosario. "I don't know what to say, I'm just very frustrated right now. I'm disappointed. I mean three goals gave up in the first half. It's tough. Ten minutes left we start lumping the ball when we have guys that can play. There's no need for that. We're playing into our weaknesses instead of into our strengths and it's a big problem right now.
"We scored two goals from crosses and then we stopped crossing the ball. For what reason I have no idea. We had a couple good chances to cross the ball and we stopped crossing and getting in the good areas. We're playing the safe pass instead of being a little more aggressive going forward and taking a chance and whipping the ball in or playing it to a forward. It's been a long six, seven games."
After weeks of practice on crosses, finishing touches and possession battles, the first multi-goal game should have been a rewarding moment for a team that has just one win on the season and has suffered through four shutouts in seven games. Instead, the loss only served to overshadow the glimmer of progress made.
"We got two goals and that's positive but it's not positive enough cause we're not winning," said Pontius. "We can be more clinical. We have the firepower to put up four a game with the amount of chances that we get."
United will have six days to head back to the drawing board before traveling to Columbus on Saturday in search of their second win of the season. At the bottom of the Eastern Conference and desperate for points, United will meet a 2-2-3 Crew squad coming off a 1-0 loss to Chicago.