Four days after their first victory of the season gave them hope that they’d turned the page on their spring struggles, D.C. United experienced an unhappy return to old habits on Saturday night in a 1-0 road loss to FC Dallas.
Watch: FULL MATCH HIGHLIGHTS
Once again United started brightly, keeping the ball for long stretches and laying siege to Kevin Hartman’s goal in the first half. But Hartman was up to the task, most notably on a frantic sequence in the 13th minute that saw the Hoops netminder make two close-range saves before Clyde Simms thumped a low drive off the left post.
Once again United failed to capitalize on such periods of dominance, letting their opponents linger and eventually paying the price with the concession of a late goal. And once again, that goal materialized out of nowhere when the briefest of mental lapses in the D.C. defense was fully punished by an opportunistic finish to snatch three points that United originally seemed well-placed to secure.
This time the backbreaker came in the 68th minute off the foot of Jeff Cunningham, who somehow kept himself onside as he slipped in behind the United back line and slotted a low shot underneath goalkeeper Bill Hamid. With his fourth goal of the year, the FCD striker continues to stalk United captain Jaime Moreno’s all-time MLS scoring record of 132 goals with 125 career tallies of his own.
D.C. head coach Curt Onalfo fielded a nearly identical first XI to the one that beat Kansas City at RFK Stadium on Wednesday, with the sole change being Devon McTavish in place of Juan Manuel Pena in central defense. The group raced out to an excellent start, forcing their hosts to chase as they pinged the ball around Pizza Hut Park’s lush turf – and in contrast to previous matches, that possession also translated into attacking menace as United’s passing and movement repeatedly stretched Dallas in the final third.
But striker Danny Allsopp was unable to replicate the cold-blooded finishing he displayed on Wednesday evening and Simms, and Curt Morsink saw well-hit efforts denied by the woodwork. Meanwhile, Cunningham converted his best look at goal to secure victory despite an overall performance that coach Schellas Hyndman admitted was “one of our weakest games.”
United are keenly aware that their early stumbles have left them in real danger of being left behind by the rest of the Eastern Conference and a 1-6 record raises the grim possibility that half the season – or more – will be rendered meaningless.
A recurring pattern of missed opportunities and exploited weaknesses has made itself clear. The club’s hopes revolve around Onalfo’s ability to navigate a different path, and quickly.