Tampa Bay Sports Day

DC United rookies and veterans learn together

DC United’s early season roller coaster of success is a mirror image of the whacky and unpredictable first third of the season.

United (3-1-5, 14 points) travels to Los Angeles for a match with Chivas USA on Saturday, in a battle of first place teams.

Despite being on the top of their respective conference tables, their records are uniquely different. Chivas has seven wins and only one draw for their 22 points while United have just three wins to go along with 5 ties, tied for second in the league with Columbus, each one back of Los Angeles and Chicago who are also tied with six.

So far this season, 22 of the 61 games played in MLS have ended in a draw with many requiring late goals for the result. Of the 159 goals scored, 93 have been in the second half with 39 coming in the last 15-minutes of matches.

After scoring early then giving up the lead in the second half last Saturday against Toronto FC, DC United needed a fortunate bounce in second half stoppage time to get a penalty kick to salvage a 3-3 draw despite dominating most of the game.

United had dodged, side stepped, or stumbled by the consequences of major errors but Toronto capitalized on two poor decisions by goalkeeper Milos Kocic and Dejan Jakovic on their first goal and Devin McTavish on the second to make a game out of one that shouldn’t have been.

“No (gray hairs) not yet it just pulls right out. I don’t waste time with the gray stuff,” United boss Tom Soehn said with a chuckle.

On a booming punt from his counterpart at the other end, Jakovic let the ball bounce which was compounded by Kocic’s hesitating off his line allowing Dewayne DeRosario to get enough of his head on the ball to slowly knock it in in the 52nd minute.

McTavish lost Adrian Serioux in the box allowing him to nod a home a corner kick 9-minutes later. “Devin was real physical the whole game and it was a play, like any set piece, you have to be a little meaner in the box and he played it too honest and Serioux got over him,” said Soehn.

“The breakdowns were mistakes on our part, it’s not necessarily that they tried to break us down in any way; they played very direct,” he added. “We got caught on some bounces-we let a lot of balls bounce that we shouldn’t have.

“We lacked the experience-we didn’t talk out some plays that could have made it real easy so it was our mistakes that really punished us, it’s not necessarily that they did anything special.”

“I think that we know that we can score goals. The amount of second half goals we have let up is crazy. That’s about seeing games out. You look at the first half of that game, they sit back and let us attack them and you got to try to finish them off early to make it easier on yourself,” added Santino Quaranta.

“You can’t let a team like that hang around cuz there are too many quality players in this league that are going to hurt you. We were letting balls bounce-it’s just fundamental stuff that you learned when you were young. We were letting balls bounce from the goalkeeper’s punts; you can’t let that kind of stuff happen at this level or you are going to get hurt. It’s a learning process for us. It’s just fundamental stuff we’ve got to figure out.”

Of the 13 goals that United has allowed, 11 have been in the second half including four each in the first and last 15-minute span of the half. Conversely, they have scored nine of their own 15 goals in the second half, five in the last 15-minutes. Only Los Angeles with six has more goals that late in games.

“We are creating a lot of opportunities especially at home and we are not putting teams away and that is coming back to bite us a little bit the fact that we have to squeak out results at the end of the game,” Soehn said.

“We also have to get better at eliminating our mistakes that cause the goals because we are playing a pretty attractive brand of soccer, the type we like to play and we are creating a lot of opportunities and we are limiting opportunities on the other side.”

Toronto rarely threatened outside of the two they were handed by United so a draw at home is not the desired result.

“At some point squeaking out ties isn’t going to be good,” said Ben Olsen. “We need to make sure we are not chasing the game and trying to get these last second goals. We are a better team than that; we are a better team than Toronto, we showed that but we just fouled up a couple of plays that hopefully we’ll learn from.”

Olsen did not train on Tuesday, nursing a right hamstring injury to go along with his chronic left ankle and is questionable for action this weekend. The veteran understands the need to avoid these unnecessary situations given the relative youth on this team.

“It’s a good quality to have but I think we are good enough where we don’t need to have that quality every game and have to gut out all these ties and things,” he added. “The important thing is we learn from the stuff we do wrong.”

“Can we fix those things? They are not lessons unless you learn from them and going forward we cannot be in these situations where we dominate and then lose concentration for a minute here and a minute there and we are tying at home.”

Results in this manner are difficult to sustain and are the product of a team belief and mentality in a common goal. The younger players on this team have willingly jumped into the muck with two feet but the growing pains have been minimal. They have bought into Soehn’s team concept with equal vigor, as have the veterans.

“They showed what they had pretty early,” said Olsen about the young group of players with the team this year. “There are guys who can play in practice and look good and fit in a practice team and there’s guys who come in a game and continue that and these guys seem to be those type of guys.

“They come into games and they relish the opportunities and they seem to like the spotlight. It’s nice to have them. You need guys that are young and have energy and want to prove something and have a great career.”

They have all also bought into the fact that points in May are as good as points in September.

“It’s something I have never really been a part of as a player in my career,” said Clyde Simms about the amount of late game drama this season. “To be able to keep that mindset the entire game even though being down late in games, usually for teams it’s tough to keep pushing and they give up. I think this team especially does a great job of staying after it and sticking to the game plan for 90-minutes.”

“I think people are starting to buy into it” said Olsen. “The team concept has been emphasized a lot by Tommy both because he’s got guys that are going to be sitting that aren’t usually sitting and to keep their head in it but at the end of your career, it’s the championships you remember, it’s the team stuff that you are going to remember and for that to happen we all have to buy into a team concept and trust that Tommy, he knows what he is doing, and has the best interest (in mind) and I think it’s working.”