With a missed penalty kick and three red cards in the games closing minutes, its hard not to focus on the end of D.C United 1-1 draw on Sunday against Philadelphia. The late dramatics masks the real concern for United ahead of Wednesdays home game against Chicago.
I think that it is our mentality and our focus we need to chamge, said defender Brandon McDonald. You see the way we played the first 15 minutes of that game and it wasnt good enough. In those games with so much on the line you have to stay focused for the whole game.
To be sure it was hard for United fans to witness Dwayne De Rosario score the apparent the goal-ahead goal on a penalty kick only to have it nullified because of encroachment. The argument between players that followed the call led to a red card for Branko Boskovic.
De Rosarios second penalty kick attempt sailed over the goal. Then Uniteds defender Emiliano Dudar was shown a straight red card for a reckless challenge. Before the final whistle was blown, the Unions Sheanon Williams received his second yellow. There was anger all around with teammates McDonald and Chris Korb arguing while leaving the field.
Yes the finale of the game was messy, but its beginning was even more of a concern.
The way we started was unacceptable from an emotional standpoint, said United head coach Ben Olsen. Also tactically we were a little off. I didnt like the way we responded at the end with Korb and McDonald, but I dealt with it and that should be something that stays in the locker room.
I dont mind the passion and the fight, added Olsen. I saw some commitment from guys I have not seen all year and I have been asking for that. I would like to see that from word go when we are in a situation where we are fighting for our lives in the playoffs.
The heat is very much on in Major League Soccers Eastern Conference. United is on 37 points and back in a playoff position sitting in fifth place. The Fire is four points ahead of United, but has played one more game. It is the first meeting of the season between sides eager to end playoff droughts.
The Fire last made the playoffs in 2009 and is gaining in confidence with three straight wins for the second time this season. United has not been in the post-season since 2007 and Sundays draw with Philadelphia ended a seven-game home winning streak. In its last eight games United has struggled to three wins, four losses, and the one tie.
Its tough right now when you have guys in and out of the lineup, noted United captain Dwayne De Rosario. We have to make it tougher for them (opponents) and set the tone from the opening whistle. We are fortunate that we had a good start; otherwise we would be in a lot of trouble right now. Now we have to wake up and realize every play matters. We cant afford to take plays off.
With Boskovic and Dudar suspended on red cards, Uniteds options are reduced. Boskovic made a difference on set plays and in distribution when he came off the bench against the Union. Dudar had worked his way back into the starting eleven and was especially needed with Robbie Russell and Daniel Woolard sidelined by injuries.
Russell with plantar fasciitis and Woolard, who is recovering from concussion symptoms, are not ready to return. Recently acquired Mike Chabala started at left back against Kansas City. Dejan Jakovic played right back against Philadelphia, but with Dudar out might return to a central partnership with McDonald.
Regardless of how the back is constructed for United, it is the area where critical lapses have to be avoided. United has a talented but young defense. The goalkeeper Bill Hamid is also young and to add to the challenge is the multiple lineup changes brought on by injuries on defense.
For us when we are communicating, we have to be more receptive, McDonald noted. I think the information is there, but sometimes it is not coming in and being processed. We are being more reactive, instead of getting there before the action occurs.
Uniteds defense needs to be ready for a new forward combination that has the Fire excited. Chris Rolfe is back from Denmark and he has picked up where he left in MLS with five goals in twelve matches. Dutch striker Sherjill McDonald in his only his second start with the Fire scored his first goal in a 2-1 victory over New England.
I like that guys understand now it is time to fight, Olsen said. Yes we have to be better, but I thought the second half (against Philadelphia) was probably some of the best stuff we have put together as far as getting after a team and getting our outside backs forward.