By Dave Johnson
Josh Wolffs header that ricocheted off the crossbar just before the final whistle fit right in with the end of D.C. Uniteds 2011 season. United was close, but not good enough in only managing one tie and five losses in its final six games.
With Wolffs miss, Sporting Kansas City was able to escape with a 1-0 win before a crowd of 15,965 at R.F.K. Stadium. The victory also punctuated a remarkable journey for a Sporting team that started the season on the road and with a 1-6-3 record
while construction of Livestrong Sporting Park was completed.
The loss not only closed the season, but ended an exhausting and emotional week for United. A week before the Chicago Fire snared a 2-1 win over United on two goals in stoppage time. On Wednesday night Uniteds playoff dream ended despite an
amazing number of quality chances in a 1-1tie with the Portland Timbers.
It was always going to be a tough task with the two days of rest, but I thought the guys pushed through it, said United
head coach Ben Olsen. I went with a lot of guys who played minutes. I couldve changed it up but I wanted to push them, and
Uniteds poor form to close the season was marked by defensive lapses. Against Sporting, United was much better .Several times Omar Bravo was able to wiggle into position, but Uniteds central defense was able to deny the former Mexican
international from taking advantage of crosses delivered from the flanks.
In the 54th minute on a set-piece Sporting found a crack in Uniteds armor. Kei Kamara headed a Graham Zusi corner kick off the goalpost. Bravo pounced on the loose ball before defender Matt Besler seized Bravos blocked shot and was able to turn,
weave into space, and blast a shot past a helpless United goalkeeper Bill Hamid from 12-yards out.
With Sporting playing out of essentially a 4-3-3 with two attacking midfielders and Bravo and Kei Kamara out wide to support striker Teal Bunbury, United responded with a similar lineup. United had Dwayne De Rosario up top and used Perry Kitchen and
Clyde Simms as defensive midfielders.
Simms suffered a head injury early in the match and was replaced by Austin Da Luz. That substitution pushed Santino Quaranta from left flank to alongside Kitchen. Andy Najar played opposite Da Luz on the right side. Charlie Davies, who was frustrated by his lack of playing time late in the season, remained on the substitutes bench.
I look at the season as a huge step for him, Olsen noted. Hes probably not very happy with the playing time hes had, but he has scored 11 goals Anywhere you cut it, whether its the beginning, middle, or the end of the season, if you take it as a combined season hes a big part of some of the success weve had this year.
De Rosario failed to his career best 16 goals. De Rosarios best chance to add to his numbers came in the 39th minute after Sporting goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen bobbled a Santino Quaranta shot from distance. De Rosario immediately pounced on the loose ball, but Nielsen sprawled to deny a clear chance and the shot popped up and over the crossbar.
Still De Rosario finished with Major League Soccers Golden Boot even though San Joses Chris Wondolowski scored his 16th goal of the season in the Earthquakes win over F.C. Dallas. De Rosario had the tie-breaker with 12 assists.
In De Rosario United has a legitimate MVP candidate, but simple lacked answers at both ends of the field late in the season. It may have been that injuries to midfielder Chris Pontius and defender Dejan Jakovic were too much for this young United side to recover from.
I know what we need for next year. But its not as much as you guys think, Olsen said. I still have a lot of confidence in this group of players. Theres going to be some changes, for sure. We have to get some additions. Weve got to get better. That, combined with some of these young guys getting this experience will hopefully be a good recipe for a