D.C. United have changed their tactics, tweaked the starting lineup, brought in midseason acquisitions and this week even fired their head coach for the first time in club history.
Yet despite increasingly desperate efforts to turn over a new leaf, the losses keep piling up and United remain locked in the MLS basement. The latest setback came at the hands of the New England Revolution on Saturday night in a 1-0 loss that highlighted the fundamental shortcomings of this year’s D.C. squad.
WATCH: Full match highlights
A strong, determined start to the match suggested that Black-and-Red were fired up to perform for their new boss, interim head coach Ben Olsen. But their ability to out-muscle the Revs in midfield did not translate into goals as move after move fizzled out in the final third of the field, with striker Pablo Hernandez particularly culpable.
“I thought we played well, we battled hard. We definitely deserved more, but at the end of the day, we didn’t score,” said midfielder Stephen King, who anchored the United midfield in the absence of an injured Clyde Simms. “For long stretches of the game we controlled things.”
D.C. outshot their hosts and showed flashes of real class to break down the New England rearguard. A slick move freed Quaranta to cross for a wide-open Hernandez in the 12th minute and Branko Boskovic’s savvy one-touch sent the Argentinean clear into the Revolution box 11 minutes after halftime. But on both occasions Hernandez directed his efforts straight at goalkeeper Matt Reis and substitute Adam Cristman continued the theme when he bounced a strong header over the crossbar in the late going.
A team that can’t score has little hope of winning matches, and United were blanked for the 13th time this season, setting a club record and also moving one step closer to matching Toronto FC’s all-time league mark of 15 shutouts in 2007. With a paltry 13 goals, D.C. are bearing down on the MLS all-time worst scoring record of 25 goals, also set by TFC in their inaugural season.
“I think at this point it’s just confidence and belief. It’s been a rough year,” said King. “We need to maybe focus and spend more time on final-third stuff, obviously. But at the end of the day it’s just confidence, believing that when you shoot the ball it’s going in the back of the net.”
King himself fell victim to the bug 17 minutes from full time when he made a perfectly-timed run into the attack, but bent his finish a few inches wide of the top right corner of goal with Reis at his mercy.
At the other end of the field, another decent defensive display was rendered meaningless by a brief lapse of concentration just before halftime, when Pat Phelan floated away from Boskovic to flick Chris Tierney’s deep free kick into the net for the game winner.
It was the defining moment of a rough night for Boskovic, who has yet to contribute the dramatic playmaking boost United were hoping for when they signed him as a designated player earlier this summer. He and his teammates will return to the drawing board for yet another week and try to fashion their long-awaited turnaround in Saturday’s meeting with FC Dallas at RFK Stadium.
“We’re just going to keep working at it. We’re not going to give up,” vowed King. “We’re going to keep going and believing that the next game is going to be the game where we break out and put some goals away.”