Santino Quaranta saw his long-range blast clang off the crossbar, hit Chivas USA goalkeeper Zach Thornton in the leg and bounce just wide of the net. Jaime Moreno’s goalbound header was cleared off the line by a desperate Mariano Trujillo. Branko Boskovic whipped a vicious drive inches high and wide of Thornton’s top corner.
Yet D.C. United’s visit to the Home Depot Center on Sunday night ended in the same fashion as so many of their other road matches: another loss, another shutout, another promising performance rendered hollow by a few inopportune errors.
WATCH: FULL MATCH HIGHLIGHTS
Lengthy spells of possession failed to break down the Chivas USA defense in the attacking third, allowing Justin Braun’s opportunistic header over Troy Perkins in the 13th minute to stand as the game winner.
If there’s encouragement to be taken from United’s eighth defeat on the road this season, it surely lies in the fact that a reserve-dominated lineup more held their own against the Goats, handing several starters some valuable rest ahead of the biggest game left on the calendar.
Their US Open Cup semifinal match against Columbus on Wednesday night represents DC’s last chance for hardware – and a bit of redemption – amid a painful league campaign, not to mention a coveted spot in CONCACAF Champions League competition.
And as expected, Sunday’s first XI reflected that reality.
Interim coach Ben Olson handed opportunities to a host of backups and tried several players in unfamiliar positions, yet the disparate group largely bettered Chivas, only to be undone by a moment of jaw-dropping resourcefulness from Braun.
The young striker eagerly attacked Ante Jazic’s deep, well-weighted cross, taking advantage of a brief hesitation by DC rookie defender Barry Rice to loop a seeing-eye header over Perkins – who will surely be ruing his positioning on the play – for the game’s only goal.
United have had ample reason to lament their poor luck this season, but Quaranta’s blast just before halftime – which rendered Thornton an absolute bystander and somehow avoided the goal - might have summed it all up in one instant.
DC have now been shut out a whopping 14 times in league play this season and there is no denying the titanic struggles and shortcomings represented in that statistic.
Once they put their draining cross-country flight behind them, Olsen and company will turn towards Wednesday’s visit from the Crew, desperately hoping that a full-strength side can push into the cup final and give their fatigued fans some reward at the tail end of a harsh campaign.