Heading into their match-up with the New England Revolution on Saturday evening, Ben Olsen’s banged-up D.C. United side likely would’ve been content with a draw. Facing a Revs side that hadn’t lost at home in nearly a year and preparing to travel cross-country for a midweek match-up against Portland, a road point likely would’ve satisfied United, for the time being keeping them atop the Eastern Conference.
Down 1-0 at the end of a first half where the Revolution used a high press and more than a bit of physicality to pull ahead, a tie likely became even more satisfactory.
But during a second 45 that saw the Revolution lose Lee Nguyen and Chris Tierney to a pair of red cards — a half where United looked more composed and dangerous even before the ejections — those expectations likely changed. Unfortunately for the Black-and-Red, they couldn’t build on Jairo Arrieta’s 80th minute equalizer, settling instead for a hard-fought 1-1 draw.
"1-0 down at half, I’ll take the tie,” Olsen told the media in attendance after the match. "But 1-1, up two men? It’d be nice to get out of here with a win. I think it’s a game where certainly they were the better team in the first half. They were a little bit sharper with the ball, and I thought physically they were pretty imposing. We didn’t necessarily match them in those parts of the game.
"Second half, I thought before they had the two red cards our response was good, our passing was better, our physicality was better. Then the cards happen and then it becomes a bit of a show. We did an ok job at times to break them down but certainly if I’d known that we’d be up two men I’d have worked on 10 v 8’s this week," he joked. "It’s a tough thing to prepare for.”
United entered the match missing a bevy of offensive pieces: Nick DeLeon, Fabian Espindola and Luis Silva all missed the match injured; Michael Farfan — DeLeon’s replacement on the evening — left the match in the second half with an apparent hamstring injury. Even Facundo Coria, who United signed just last week, seemed to pick up a knock just minutes after entering the match late in the second half.
D.C. still managed to look dangerous during stretches of the both halves. Davy Arnaud, Chris Rolfe and Chris Pontius combined well on multiple occasions, and second-half substitute Taylor Kemp brought life to the the flanks, swinging in a number of dangerous balls during his time on the pitch.
Despite that chemistry, United had trouble with the final product. Rolfe sent a pair of efforts over the crossbar, while Pontius had trouble finding the net as well. Even after losing Tierney and Nguyen before the hour mark, New England remained defensively sound, minimizing United’s advantage.
“Obviously once we get the equalizer we would’ve liked to get the second goal to win the game,” said Arnaud. "But it can be tough - you do drills that are similar in training that are similar, where you’re up a man or two and a team is sitting deep in their own half. They clogged the middle of the field and it can become even more difficult, if that makes any sense.”
"Credit [New England],” added Olsen. "They dug in. They’ve got a lot of guys on their squad that were doing everything it took to make it difficult on us.”
D.C.’s job doesn’t get any easier from here. They’ll head to Portland for their midweek tilt before traveling home for a match-up against the Philadelphia Union just days later, a turnaround which Olsen on Saturday called “a bit ridiculous.” In the meantime, Olsen and his men will need to find a way to keep getting results, injuries be damned.
“What’s made us good, is that we do all the little things right,” said Olsen. "At times we’ll get away from that for a half or so - that’s not good enough anymore, when you’re sitting at the top. You’re gonna get the best from everybody."