Experience is said to be the best teacher. But that teacher delivered an exceedingly harsh lesson to D.C. United in Thursday night’s 1-0 loss to Seattle Sounders FC at RFK Stadium.
Rookie Jordan Graye’s astonishing progress from unheralded fourth-round draft pick to everyday starter has been one of the highlights of United’s troubled campaign. Against Seattle, however, the 23-year-old defender made the wrong decision at the wrong time and his team was ruthlessly punished for the transgression.
In the 89th minute, when the game was seconds away from ending in a draw, Graye was picked by Seattle substitute Sanna Nyassi, who set up Fredy Montero for a pinpoint cross that led to Roger Levesque’s game-winning goal and sentenced DC to their 10th loss of the season.
“We started pushing forward and I guess my mentality got caught in attack too much, and I ended up causing the error that [Seattle] scored on,” said Graye. “That’s the way the game works sometimes.”
It was a match that United seemed well-placed to win. New signings Pablo Hernandez and Branko Boskovic made their debuts and rookie Andy Najar continued to impress on the right flank. The DC attack, hunting for the goals they desperately need in order to make up ground in the MLS standings, forced Seattle to defend cautiously and absorb pressure.
But the strike force muffed their lines yet again and, on a night when United fans paid their respects to Bryan Namoff, the long-serving right back whose career has been sidetracked indefinitely by post-concussion syndrome, the Black-and-Red were reminded of the inherent risks of playing youngsters in defense.
“It’s the grind of MLS,” said United head coach Curt Onalfo. “We took a whole bunch of steps forward and, tonight, we took a step back. Is it the end of the world? It kind of is, in my mind. We have to learn from this stuff. A youthful error in the 89th minute lost us the game. It happens. It’s disappointing. But we’ll continue to get better.”
Working his way into Namoff’s old spot earlier this year and subsequently slotted in at left back due to injuries to Rodney Wallace and Marc Burch, Graye’s athleticism usually enables him to recover from the youthful mistakes that inevitably crop up. But this time he could not track back in time to deny Montero’s killer pass.
Afterwards, when asked about this gut punch of a result, goalkeeper Troy Perkins responded, “The gut? A kick to the groin, I think.
“With young players, it’s going to happen. But at the end of the day it’s still peoples’ livelihood and their jobs are on the line. It’s a tough job. At any professional level, yeah, it’s a learning curve, but there comes a point where mistakes end up costing people their livelihood.”
Not all blame should fall on Graye, though. A good portion of it should also fall on the shoulders of the misfiring DC front line. Several good chances went begging and Sounders goalkeeper Kasey Keller made five saves, while his teammate Patrick Ianni bailed him out with a goal-line clearance on one occasion.
United need every single point they can find if they are to achieve their goal of hauling themselves into the playoff race by the end of the season, and the idea of a 0-0 draw was clearly unappealing to the squad as the second half played out – setting the stage for the late catastrophe that eventually left them empty-handed.
“We’re at home," said Onalfo. "The way our season’s gone, because of our start, we have to take a little bit more risk, and that’s what we did towards the end because we need those points. It’s just a matter of stepping up and putting the ball in the back of the net.”
That task will not get easier this weekend: On Sunday United host the league-leading Los Angeles Galaxy, owners of the stingiest defense in MLS.