First Team

Busy D.C. United take "a lot of positives" from reshuffled lineup's performance in Portland loss

IMAGE: Hamid Save vs Timbers 052715

After using a midweek cross-country trip as a reason to field an experimental starting XI vs. the Portland Timbers on Wednesday, D.C. United coach Ben Olsen didn’t hide his feelings about his side’s busy May.

“To turn around come Wednesday, and to fly on Thursday and play on a Saturday, I’ve said it before – it’s silly to ask guys to do that,” Olsen said following United’s 1-0 loss to the Timbers at Providence Park.

D.C. are now two matches into a five-game, 15-day stretch that will likely be their busiest of the year. Such scenarios aren’t uncommon in MLS, but the trip West threw in an added level of difficulty.

So with a two-point lead in the Eastern Conference, a match in hand over second-place New England, and an Eastern Conference home rematch against the Philadelphia Union looming Saturday (7 p.m. ET, MLS LIVE), Olsen opted to field "a separate team."

His midfield quartet of Markus Halsti, Miguel Aguilar, Jared Jeffrey and Luke Mishu had started a combined two league matches this season, with Mishu making his MLS debut.

Perhaps that unfamiliarity showed early, as the Timbers’
Gaston Fernandez
seized upon
Taylor Kemp
’s giveaway to carve out space on the right before crossing to set up
Maximiliano Urruti
’s fifth-minute strike.

But after goalkeeper Bill Hamid intervened to deny Urruti on another breakway, United grew into the match and at times looked capable of an equalizer.

“We’re better for this,” Olsen said, “And I think there’s a lot of positives tonight.”

Forward Conor Doyle, who has played some unsung hero roles as a sub this season, provided a consistent back-to-goal target. Jairo Arrieta might’ve had D.C.’s best chance four minutes before the break, when his effort from the left side of the penalty area was deflected by Liam Ridgewell’s desperate sliding challenge.

“It’s disappointing to go down that early,” said Doyle, who later moved onto the wing when veteran defender Bobby Boswell made a rare subs appearance at forward late in the second half. “We got into the game and we just weren’t able to put one away. We had a few chances. Just couldn’t do it.”

United continued to control possession early in the second half, before Portland seemed to find another gear later. Hamid twice denied Dairon Asprilla from close range and also dove left to push Darlingon Nagbe’s effort just outside the left post, all in a two-minute stretch.

Among United’s other bright spots was the steady play of Finnish international Halsti, who made his second start for D.C. after suffering a knee sprain just after joining his new club.

And center back Steve Birnbaum returned to the pitch for the first time since late March, pairing for the first time with Kofi Opare at center back while Olsen rested Boswell early.

“We haven’t been playing with each other for that long, so I think at times that might’ve shown on the field,” Opare said. “But Like I said, that comes with games and repetitions. And I think we’re starting to get to understand each other’s tendencies.”