When Jan Gunnar Solli’s 55th minute strike gave New York a3-1 edge on Saturday night, D.C. United were in an unfamiliar spot. For the first time since an early Mayloss to San Jose, the Black-and-Red found themselves trailing by multiplegoals. In most corners of asold-out Red Bull Arena, there was little sense that Ben Olsen’s side mightmuster a comeback.
That sense – bolstered by the fact that United had struggledto enjoy any meaningful possession – did not make its way into the visitors’psyche.
“I’ve seen this team do some amazing things already,” DannyCruz said from United’s locker room after the 3-2 loss. “I don’t think any of us at 3-1 said weare done. I certainly didn’t and Iknow none of these guys did.”
Cruz’s comments might seem like typical post-game chatterfrom a player known well for his never-say-die approach, but the winger's words weresupported by D.C.’s performance over the last half hour. Eleven minutes after New York tookcontrol, United struck back with a Chris Pontius goal born of a brilliant passfrom second-half substitute Maicon Santos. The response was exactly what Olsen had sought by insertingthe Brazilian and put the Red Bulls squarely on the defensive.“That goal was huge,” said captain Dwayne De Rosario. “Wedefinitely thought we were in the game. I was thinking it was just a matter of time before we get the nextone. Unfortunately, it just didn’twork out that way.”
Beyond Pontius’ second goal, there was plenty of tangibleproof of United’s late improvement. After being dominated in possession (63.2% - 36.8%) through the firsthalf, Olsen made a tactical shift. Santos was left as D.C.’s lone striker while Pontius dropped intomidfield. United’s five-manmidfield, bolstered by substitutes Branko Boskovic and Andy Najar, closed thepossession gap significantly (53.5% - 46.5%) by game’s end.
“Overall I thought there was some really good attackingstuff,” Olsen said when asked about his team’s second-half performance. “Branko was a part of a lot of it. He came in and slowed the game down forus and gave us some real possession.”
Still, for a team that has its sights set on an EasternConference title, the second-half rally - as promising as it may have been - came far too late.
“You can’t just put together one good half and expect to winon the road,” added a disappointed Perry Kitchen. “There’s definitely work to be done."