D.C. United were hoping to get back to a bit of normalcy on Sunday at Audi Field but instead lost 2-0 to New York City FC. Last year, in the inaugural season at the new stadium, United never had a winless streak. In winning 12 of the 15 games on Buzzard Point, United never had setbacks in consecutive games.
With Sunday's loss, D.C. have now gone three games without a win at Audi Field, having not scored a single goal. Offensively, United never got out of first gear against City, failing to really test keeper Sean Johnson over the course of the game. At the other end, United were probably lucky to have only conceded twice, as Maxi Moralez missed a penalty at the end of the first half.
United have two games on the road this week: at the Columbus Crew and Minnesota United. After starting the season so well, D.C. will now have to try to get back on track on the road, where they are currently undefeated in 2019.
Here are a couple of talking points from Sunday's loss to City:
1. Where's The Offense?
On March 31, D.C. United scored a 2-1 win at Orlando City to end the month with three wins from four games, scoring nine goals and conceding just once. The Black-and-Red were held scoreless just once — during the second week of the season at New York City FC. It was a small sample size, but United were feeling good about themselves four games into the season.
Fast forward to April 22 and the outlook isn't quite as bright for D.C.
Since that win against Orlando, United have one win, one draw, and two losses in four games. United have been shutout in three of those games, all at home, scoring three times and conceding eight. And the three goals scored came in an eight-minute stretch against the Colorado Rapids, the only team left in the league without a win after Week 8.
On Sunday, United's attack lacked any semblance of the squad that was finding the back of the net all sorts of ways in the first month of the season. Opportunities to stretch City's defense, or get in behind were few and far between, and when those occasions presented themselves, D.C. didn't have the ideas or ability to make the chances count.
A big part of the equation right now is having to use Paul Arriola out of position with two injuries at left back. That's robbing United of a pacey option in midfield. On Sunday, Arriola started at left back and had little influence on the game in the attacking end. In the second half, the USMNT player was moved further up as United changed formations, and Arriola was able to get more involved. Ben Olsen needs to find a way to keep Arriola engaged offensively for United to find a way out of their funk.
2. Getting Lucho Back In The Grove
Luciano Acosta is by no means having a bad season, but the Argentine magician seems to be falling short of the impossible standards he set in the second half of last season. Acosta, through eight games this season, has two goals and two assists. After Lucho did as he pleased last year after the arrival of Wayne Rooney, teams in 2019 have seemed to be able to key in on the playmaker, limiting his production.
Acosta scored last week against the Rapids, helping United turn a deficit completely around. Acosta didn't get an assist for Chris Durkin's goal, but the feed into Lucas Rodriguez was pivotal in creating the go-ahead goal.
But on Sunday, New York City — who had not won a game yet this year — were able to get the better of Acosta. United's No. 10 had just one shot, one key pass, and one successful dribble through the course of 90 minutes. The key pass probably should have led to a goal, as Rooney mistimed a jump on the cross, but it was clear that Acosta just didn't have the kind of influence on the game that fans became accustomed to last year.
And that's not gone unnoticed by his manager either.
"He’s not at his best right now. Teams are doing a good job on him," said Olsen after the game.
It might not take much to get Acosta back in his top gear, but Olsen, Acosta himself, and his teammates around him need to find a way to get Acosta back playing at his best.
3. The Week Doesn't Get Any Easier From Here
There are no sure things in MLS, but coming off a week of rest, at home against a team without a win, United probably were counting on picking up three points on Sunday. Instead, they head out west with zero, putting a bit more emphasis on Wednesday's game against the Columbus Crew and Sunday's tilt against Minnesota United.
Both opponents are coming off losses of their own, but both trips will present difficult challenges for the Black-and-Red. The Crew lost at home on Saturday to the Portland Timbers, the surprise result of the weekend. However, MAPFRE Stadium has been a house of horrors for United.
The last time D.C. walked away from the Ohio capital with all three points was on August 18, 2007, when United won 2-0. Since then, the two teams have faced off 11 times at MAPFRE, with Columbus winning eight, and drawing three. The Crew hold a 22-5 advantage in goals scored in those games.
If United find a way to win on Wednesday, it will put an end to years of pain in Ohio.
And if that task wasn't daunting enough, United then have to go to Minnesota to play at the brand new Allianz Field. The other United opened their brand new stadium last weekend, and played a thrilling 3-3 draw against NYCFC. Not quite the performance that D.C. had when they opened Audi Field last July, but the hosts will be hoping to taste victory for the first time at their AF.
If the Black-and-Red can get a couple of results, they'll feel better about themselves after Sunday's loss. But that loss has put a bit more pressure on the next two games than expected.