In the end, any loss to a conference foe - nomatter the situation - is a disappointing result. Especially for a team, like D.C. United, that through amostly positive start to 2012 has positioned itself as one of the EasternConference's best sides.
But after watching his players battle injury,emotion and the burning Texas sun, Ben Olsen was anything but disappointed inthe Black-and-Red's effort during Saturday's 1-0 loss to the Houston Dynamo.
"I give our guys a lot of credit,"Olsen said afterwards. "Ithought they worked very hard and gave what they had, but it really was thefirst time we hit a little bit of heat and we didn't do so well with it."As Olsen acknowledged, United has mostly avoidedany brutal heat while compiling 18 points through the club's first elevenmatches of the season. D.C.'s homegames have averaged a kickoff temperature around 50 degrees, and a wet springin Washington has made rain a common occurrence at RFK.
But on Saturday, 80-degree temperatures anda cloudless sky swallowed up a United side already weary from a three-matchroad trip.
"I think the heat played more of afactor," said captain Dwayne De Rosario, who received a warm receptionfrom Houston's otherwise unwelcoming fans. "It affected us mentally. It affected our positioning."
What the heat didn't affect is the steelydetermination quickly becoming a staple of Olsen's side. The atmosphere inside brand new BBVACompass Stadium would have been enough to put most teams on their back foot,but it was far from D.C.'s biggest hurdle on a difficult day. Midfield stalwart Perry Kitchen wentout with a first half knee injury and - with Marcelo Saragosa unavailable -there was no like-for-like substitution in the holding midfield spot. Stephen King filled in admirably, butthere was no denying Kitchen's impact when, once he left the field, Houstontook control of a match they'd only chased prior.
"Perry's injury coincided with, I thought, a real sense of fatigue throughout our team," Olsen admitted. "I didn't think [fatigue] was going to be an issue because we had a break all week and the guys were fresh. But the heat hit us pretty hard."
The burned substitution also handicapped D.C.late in the game. As the sun beatdown on United's black-clad players, injuries and fatigue piled up. Chris Korb rolled his ankle badly latein the second half, but - having seen his club already exhaust theirsubstitutions - the second-year defender had little choice but to fighton. With seemingly nothing left intheir collective tanks United mustered a few late chance, including a 92ndminute header from Daniel Woolard that nearly tied the game.
On a day where they were 'lambs to theslaughter' for Houston's grand event, D.C. could have quit. But the Black-and-Red refused. It's a noticeable difference from ayear ago, when Olsen's post-game press conferences often saw the rookie coachfrustrated by a lack of consistent effort from his young side.
"I think Ben saw that last year," DeRosario noted of the inconsistencies that eventually doomed D.C.'s 2011 playoffpush. "That’s why he made theadjustments and brought in guys that are obviously showing their commitment tothis team."
"When you come out and compete you have a chance to win thegame," added Woolard, who shifted in to central defense as injuriescontinue to devastate United's back four. "The coaching staff has got that across to us as players and it'sshowing when we get out and fight, we are in games."