Tampa Bay Sports Day

United slides further from playoff slot

DC United’s playoff hopes took a severe turn for the worse Saturday night with a disappointing effort in a 2-0 home loss to Chivas USA in front of 24,175 fans, their largest home crowd of the season. United sits in fourth place in the Eastern Conference, ninth overall in the combined table and now four points behind Colorado for the final playoff spot.

“They were a better team,” said Ben Olsen who was ejected in the 65th minute for retaliating to a Yamith Cuesta foul that earned him a yellow card as well. “They took advantage of us, from some of our shortcomings and obviously after I’m out, the game changes.

“I think they were better without me out there. They’re a good team. They played hard and worked hard and we let a lot go on their end. I don’t know if we really matched that fight early on. That was part of my frustration.”

Though it was officially scored an own goal, Maicon Santos pulled the trigger for the first Chivas goal in the 32nd minute following a series of quality opportunities by Justin Braun that set the tempo from the onset of the match.

The rangy Brazilian collected a ball from Sasha Kljestan in the left channel, fought through Julius James and banged a left footed shot from inside the penalty area off the post that struck United goalkeeper Milos Kocic in the back and trickled across the goal line.

Jesus Padilla scored his first career MLS goal to effectively put the game away just after halftime, outdueling Marc Burch for a fairly innocuous Jonathon Bornstein free kick near the 6-yard box and knocking home the loose ball in the 53rd minute. As the two vied for the lofted ball , it deflected off of Marc Burch straight down to the Mexican-American who slotted home.

“I’m flustered that we could come out and not have real energy in the first half. I think we’ve been saying the right things all week and then to come out flat and have them take the game to us was very disappointing,” said United Coach Tom Soehn.

“We tried to energize ourselves and get some legs on. In the end, we didn’t have the legs to begin with. And then you get down a goal and then make another mistake for the second goal and obviously it’s disappointing on all fronts tonight.”

Chivas perhaps set the blue print for how to beat this United side, coming out and attacking from the opening moment of the game, never allowing United to establish any sort of rhythm.

“I think it went exactly as we wanted it to go,” said Chivas defender Carey Talley. “We planned on coming in here and getting three points, pushing the tempo the whole time and from minute one we were on top of them the whole time and we played well tonight.”

After being knocked down by a violent elbow in the back by Cuesta on the right touch line at midfield, a foul that may have been worthy of a direct red card on its own merit, Olsen got up and fired the ball at the retreating Columbian striking him in the back.

As referee Mark Stott approached the scene with yellow card already in hand for Cuesta, he was forced to make the quick switch en route and excuse the veteran midfielder from the match.

At that point however, the match was clearly in control of the visitors. United had no answer for Kljestan who repeatedly got into good spots in the attacking third of the field, punishing United with decisive passes that threatened their back line the entire match.

“Their wide midfielders played really wide tonight and I like to come inside and find the ball so it made Lawson Vaughn have to make some decisions whether he had to come up really tight on me, and if he did, the space behind him was open and if he held his spot, I could find some good gaps inside,” said Kljestan.

“I think I did a good job of trying to find those good spots and the guys around me did a good job of getting me the ball when I needed it so it was a combination of everyone doing well on the field tonight.”

Kljestan set up Justin Braun three times in the early going including a shot that skimmed the crossbar just seconds before Santos goal.

“He floated inside a lot and we lost track of him. But in the end we didn’t have the ball. You need to punish him when he comes inside and you open up the field and we didn’t have enough possession. And in the second half I think we did,” said Soehn.

With the abundance of recent league and CONCACAF Champions League games, Soehn started Vaughn and Burch on the defensive flanks with James and Dejan Jakovic in the middle. He chose to start Christian Gomez in a much higher position, playing with his back to the goal, a position and role in which he was clearly not comfortable.

In a curious decision by Soehn, an outwardly upset Gomez was replaced by Jaime Moreno just two minutes before halftime. Luciano Emilio did not start as well but came on in favor of Burch in the 62nd minute. Fred was also inserted for Boyzzz Khumalo to start the second half.

“Christian was forced to play with his back to goal a lot and they were surrounding him,” said Soehn about the move. “Jaime is obviously more capable of doing that and injecting some life. We were looking to add some possession at that point.”

“Our game plan was to go out push them and make them play from the first minute because some of these guys are going on three or four games in 10 days,” added Talley. “And until MLS rosters get larger and deeper, it’s going to be tough for these teams down the stretch that are playing in CONCACAF, SuperLiga, things where you’d like to actually have the manpower to compete game-in and game-out.”

Though United had more of the ball in the second half, it amounted to very few productive chances at goal. Chivas keeper Zach Thornton gave United some fleeting hope to crack the scoring column, misjudging a Santino Quaranta corner in the 78th minute.

With the ball getting to him quickly and unexpectedly, Emilio’s reactionary header popped straight up in the air allowing the veteran keeper to recover and ward off the threat.

Emilio combined with Quaranta again 3-minutes later but his stumbling left footed shot from a primo 10-yards away drifted harmlessly high and wide.

“They were better. We didn’t really play well in the first half. I think we attacked a little bit better in the second half, but in the end we just weren’t good enough,” said Quaranta. “I don’t want to make excuses. We’re professionals…maybe it’s expectations.

“Maybe we’re not as good as we’ve been. I don’t know if it comes down to individuals, if it comes down collectively, but we’re just not good enough, including myself as well. I don’t know.”

“Well, our playoff hopes are slim now,” concluded Soehn. “We’ve dug ourselves a major hole. Now we’re looking at everybody else, but in the end we still have to look at ourselves and find a way to pick ourselves out again. But it’s slim chances now. That’s the reality.”