Curt Onalfo is a dyed-in-the-wool optimist, and proud of it.
A cancer survivor, D.C. United’s head coach has overcome anumber of daunting obstacles in his personal and professional life, and he’snot about to change that approach, even in the wake of a dispiriting 3-2setback to Philadelphia Union on Saturday night, his team’s third straight lossof the young season.
“Listen, if you’ve been around me long enough, you’ll findvery quickly that I’m not a guy that puts my head down,” said Onalfo when askedafterwards about flagging morale in the United camp. “I’ve been through a hellof a lot worse and our group is going to get better. At the end of the day,this is going to make us a better team.”
Onalfo and several D.C. players took heart from theresourceful fight-back that enabled them to pull level in the second half aftera miserable start to the match propelled the Black-and-Red into the locker roomdeservedly down 2-0.
United had shown little attacking danger and Onalforesponded by bringing on Jaime Moreno up top, moving Chris Pontius back to theleft flank and shifting Santino Quaranta from a central playmaking role out toright wing.
The changes paid off when Quaranta’s solo effort cut thedeficit in half in the 63rd minute, and that breakthrough was quickly followedby a classically opportunistic goal from Jaime Moreno to tie the game and quietthe rowdy home fans at Lincoln Financial Field.
“I thought our response in the second half was excellent,”said Onalfo. “Quite frankly, when we got the second, I thought we were going towin the game, or at a minimum, walk out of here with a point.”
But after clawing their way within range of a scarcely deservedshare of the points, United couldn’t protect that stolen property and wereundone 10 minutes later when Dejan Jakovic was sent off for a foul on AlejandroMoreno. Union striker Sébastien Le Toux completed his hat trick on the ensuingfree kick.
“[Moreno] hooked me and all I did was just put my hand onhim and he dropped right away,” said Jakovic, who struggled with the cunningVenezuelan all night. “I thought there was a lot worse tackles in the game --for him to give me a red card for that was pretty disappointing.
For the third week running, United found a new way to lose-- and each successive setback is raising new questions about various areas ofthe squad. Little surprise, then, that others in the D.C. camp have found itmore and more difficult to seek out the positives.
“To be honest with you, I’m just tired of saying, ‘What do Itake from this game,’” lamented Jaime Moreno in a corner of the downcast D.C.locker room. “Very simple: We lost and we’re not good enough. We’ve got to knowthat and we’ve got to go back to work and figure it out -- how to win and howto become a better team.”
Now United face a tough matchup with the Chicago Fire at RFKStadium next weekend, robbed of both first-choice center backs (Juan Manuel Peña injured his hamstring and seems likely to miss at least onematch) and facing doubts about personnel, tactics and mentality.
“We need to sort it out,” said Jaime Moreno. “I don’t thinkwe’ve started this bad before. It’s just very hard to understand what happenedbecause we worked so hard during the week and come into the game and it seemslike luck is not on our side. Players get injured, we get sent off. It’shopefully not one of those years. But we’ve got to dig deep, work together andkeep believing that this can turn around."