The diehard fans are still flocking out to their aging but lovable stadium, tailgating for hours and singing themselves hoarse all game. The players they cheer for remain proud professionals, working hard for themselves, their club and their earnest young coach.
But the mistakes keep happening, opportunity after opportunity goes begging and the losses continue to pile up for D.C. United in a season that seems destined to go down as the worst in the organization’s history.
The latest blow was delivered by FC Dallas, the team that surrendered four goals to United in a US Open Cup qualifying game at RFK Stadium in April, only to prove far less accommodating in a 3-1 league victory at the same facility on Saturday night.
Applying high-pressure tactics, United created a bevy of chances in the first half-hour and should’ve been well in front by intermission. But FCD goalkeeper Kevin Hartman made several strong saves and the misfiring strike force again failed to find the net, as even their consolation goal came off the foot of Dallas defender Jair Benitez.
“When we did pick balls off, we weren’t clean enough in the final third and we weren’t maybe precise enough to get the goal,” said interim head coach Ben Olsen. “But that’s who we are, that’s what we’ve struggled with all year. You know, we get the chances off pressure and we don’t do so well with it.”
The evening marked Olsen’s first home match as United interim head coach and the DC supporters groups marked the occasion with vocal tributes and a massive Rambo-themed banner for their longtime hero. But Dallas weathered United’s feisty start to the match, snatched a goal late in the first half and then defended their advantage with effective counterattacking soccer down the stretch.
“We’ve got 11 more games and we’ve got to keep going and try to fix this thing,” said a demoralized Olsen. “But the guys are disappointed, I’m disappointed. It wasn’t an easy one tonight. We wanted to reward our fans – it’s been a tough road for them as well – but we fell short.”
The visitors’ all-important second goal arrived in contentious fashion just after halftime, leaving United fuming at both the refereeing of Abby Okulaja and the gamesmanship of their opponents. Okulaja waved play on after DC defender Carey Talley was hip-checked by Break Shea and, with Talley still prone on the field, Eric Alexander scored the goal that pushed his team’s lead to 2-0.
The ground impact caused by Shea’s challenge was violent enough that Talley vomited in the moments afterward and had to be substituted, with United’s medical staff harboring concerns about potential liver damage. But it was just one of many occasions on which Okulaja elected to keep his whistle in his pocket and the match took on a correspondingly rough-edged tone.
Mostly, though, United were undone by their own errors. Even the fiercest fighting spirit cannot erase breakdowns like those that have plagued the league’s basement side and the harsh effects of those mistakes have left a pall over the RFK home locker room.
“Overall, we fight. We’re trying to do it for Ben, we’re trying to do it for ourselves, do it for our families, do it for the fans. But [for] 20-second periods we just turn off and things happen, things don’t go our way,” said goalkeeper Bill Hamid.
“This season so far, Lady Luck, we haven’t had her on our side. It’s disappointing how we fight for pretty much the whole game and don’t come out with results.”