Aug 29, 2018; Washington, DC, USA; D.C. United goalkeeper Bill Hamid (24) gestures to the crowd after the game against the Philadelphia Union at Audi Field. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports
WASHINGTON — D.C. United was unable to beat the heat and fell to the Philadelphia Union 2-0, the club’s first loss in its last five home matches at Audi Field.
Although the thermometer read near 85 degrees, the pitch felt closer to 95 degrees Saturday. With 10 games left in its 2018 MLS regular season campaign, D.C. is hard-pressed for points.
“We had chances,” forward Wayne Rooney said. “[We] maybe rushed the cross, rushed the pass. I think tonight we were a bit sloppy. But again, you have to credit the opponents. They made it difficult for us … They deserved the victory.”
Philadelphia opened scoring in the 29th minute when midfielder Fafa Picault started a counterattack at midfield. He quickly dished a ball to forward CJ Sapong, who ran toward the penalty box. Sapong laid off a pass for forward Cory Burke before crossing to the opposite side. United Goalkeeper Bill Hamid saved the initial shot, but Sapong was there to clean it up.
“When we concede the first goal, it is going to be a long night,” coach Ben Olsen said. “Now you have to chase the game. We are coming off of two days rest. It has been a hot week and the Red Bulls game was a physical matchup that maybe took a little more out of us than I thought.”
With a height advantage, the Union’s centerback pairing of Jack Elliott and Auston Trusty shut down Rooney, and United managed just one shot on target in the first half.
In one of United’s final attempts of the half, midfielder Paul Arriola darted into the final third. Going one-on-one with Elliott, Arriola hit a ball that appeared to bounce off Elliott’s hand. Referee Nima Saghafi put his finger to his ear, but did not call for a penalty or review of the play and the Union entered halftime with the lead.
“If it doesn’t hit his hand, [Arriola] is going by him, no?” Olsen said. “I have to look at it again.”
Heat and a tight schedule brought rotation to United’s line up. Olsen opted for just one change at the start of the match — midfielder Zoltan Stieber for injured Yamil Asad — but was forced to switch things up during the course of the match.
In an attempt to win the middle of the field, Olsen opted to take off right back Oniel Fisher and insert Ulises Segura at halftime. Arriola shifted to wing back for the first time this season.
Then came Philly’s second goal–a one-timer from Picault at the top of the 6-yard box.
“You saw it in the second half. We’re cooked,” Olsen said. “But everyone of those guys gave me everything they had.”
Olsen subbed on forward Darren Mattocks for defensive midfielder Russell Canouse, who had an off night and missed an opportunity in the 57th minute when he chose to pass to Arriola instead of taking the shot.
In the final sub of the match, Olsen added centerback Frederic Brillant for defender Kofi Opare as a straight sub rather than going to a formation with three centerbacks. The change left Rooney and midfielder Luciano Acosta to play all 90 minutes.
Brillant was a tactical switch to improve the quality of passing and add intensity. Fisher was a precautionary sub off the field due to a tight hamstring, Olsen said.
“In the second half, they were gassed,” Union captain Alejandro Bedoya said. “I was too, but we were able to do a lot better things with the ball.”
Both teams have a close eye on the red playoff cut line. Philadelphia sits in fifth place, just one point behind the Columbus Crew. United is in eighth place in the East with 27 points. It is a tight race for United with Montreal and New England above, and a desperate Toronto even on points below.
“We just lacked quality on the night and a lot of that is fatigue,” Olsen said. “They worked their tails off. I am appreciate of that [but] the loss hurts.”
On a sweltering night in the Washington, United’s biggest loss may come from tired legs rather than points in the standings. The Black-and-Red have a quick turnaround hosting top-performing Atlanta United Sunday at 7:30 p.m. ET.