By James Mundia
Olsen Frustrated as United Miss Key Offensive Chances
WASHINGTON, D.C. — As is often the case with teams not faring well in league competition, there is more than meets the eye.
DC United, in Wednesday night’s US Open Cup loss to the Columbus Crew, displayed flashes of the team that was once the dominant force in league.
A member of many of those teams, interim manager Ben Olsen was outwardly disappointed while talking with members of the press afterwards.
“We just can’t reward ourselves”, he remarked.
The frustration was written on his face during the press conference, the result of having a near wire to wire victory erased by a late equalizer and an extra time spot kick.
United could have taken the lead back less than a minute after the equalizer when Najar (photo courtesy D.C. United) found himself one-on-one with Gruenebaum, only to send his effort on goal wide. The beautifully executed set piece from the kickoff was straight from the training ground, a play drawn up to take advantage of the momentarily lapse in attention road teams tend to have after key goals. And it nearly worked in United’s favor, save for some untimely and unpolished finishing from Najar.
After producing the early penalty kick goal through Hernandez, United looked like a team well versed in playing with the lead, dominating the first half possession and chances. A compact defense gave the Crew few opportunities, and speedy play out of the back also led to promising counterattacking forays by the home side.
For most of the first 60 minutes, the play on the field signaled a switch in roles for a match that, on paper, was between the best and worst teams in the Eastern Conference. United, however, looked like the Eastern Conference leader; controlling possession, pressing when given the chance, but not being foolhardy in sending players forward.
The Crew had moments of disorganization, with several botched clearances out of the back due to poor passes and United pressure.
Even the managers seemed to be doing a little bit of “Freaky Friday” routine. Olsen looked at times the seasoned veteran, keeping his cool with players, negotiating diplomatically with officials, and standing with a cool demeanor, taking in the action.
Warzycha resembled what one would expect from a young and mostly untested interim coach, animating wildly at the drop of a hat, bickering with officials at every chance, and throwing a water bottle in frustration at one point.
The missed opportunities in front of goal would come back to haunt United, starting with Hernandez’s odd red card in the 59th minute. Hernandez, who had a real workman’s game up to that point, marred the performance with his kick out at O’Rourke in midfield, leading to his ejection.
Despite holding their on for most of the period after the ejection, the aerial attack looked as if it would cause problems for United, especially as Hamid seemed to have trouble handling high balls into the box on multiple occasions.
United inability to clear the ball in the 89th minute led to the goal and the ensuing extra time where Columbus took the lead with a penalty kick from Schelloto (photo).
There doesn’t seem to be any doubt that Olsen is the spark United needs to write the ship. His demeanor during the match in the technical area and after the match with press were genuine, a coach’s coach taking his role seriously and not accepting failure easily.
He continued after the match: “It’s just pretty cruel sometimes…the guys, for the most part do it all, and they go out and they fight and they do create chances, and we just don’t reward ourselves.
The match result means the elimination of United’s best chance at silverware this season, no doubt a big part of the overall disappointment felt by the manager.
There can be some solace, however, in the elements present on this DC United team that seem poised for a breakthrough. Najar’s deft dribbling electrified the crowd. Hamid made key stops all night from inside his own box. Quaranta and Alsopp, along with Najar and Hernandez are developing the psychic meld attributed to the success of top flight attacking units.
Despite the immediate disappointment for interim manager Ben Olsen, its back to the practice pitch, as they take on the Crew again Saturday night in MLS action.
James Mundia is the D.C. United correspondent for 90Soccer.com.