If it had happened a few months ago, D.C. United might have hailed Saturday afternoon’s 0-0 draw with the Chicago Fire as a sign of progress, a hard-earned road point secured by stout defending and several sharp saves from goalkeeper Troy Perkins.
As it is, Ben Olsen’s squad are glad to fly back to Washington with another clean sheet in their possession, given that it took them 10 weeks to earn their first shutout at the season’s outset. D.C. have allowed just two goals in their last four road games.
The defense has made great strides since those woeful early stages of the campaign and United will enter 2011 with a list of promising options along the back line.
“I think we’ve all kind of regrouped here and collectively said, ‘Defensively, that’s what we need to start building on,’” Perkins told MLSsoccer.com after Saturday’s match. “From there, everything else will come.”
Perkins had to be especially sharp in the first half’s final seconds, diving to his right to palm Fire striker Brian McBride’s header away from the bottom corner of the net and prevent a potentially backbreaking setback on the threshold of halftime. Making his final appearance at Toyota Park, the retiring McBride was the focal point of the day, and Perkins was glad to avoid becoming a footnote in the history books.
“I didn’t want to be that guy that he scores his final goal against,” admitted the United ‘keeper.
However, at this late juncture the result also represents a frustrating reminder of United’s attacking inadequacies. Inspired, as usual, by teenaged winger Andy Najar, the Black-and-Red carved out a number of good scoring opportunities but somehow none found a way past Fire ‘keeper Andrew Dykstra. Even on several loose balls in the Chicago penalty area that were just waiting to be hammered home, United’s attacking corps failed to execute.
Danny Allsopp, Santino Quaranta, Pablo Hernandez and Stephen King all had clear looks at goal only to walk away empty-handed. With 19 goals scored and one game remaining, it’s all but guaranteed that D.C. will shatter the MLS record for fewest goals scored in a season (25), set by Toronto FC in 2007.
“Unfortunately we just can’t put our chances away,” acknowledged Perkins. “We’re creating a lot, just that final pass, that final touch just isn’t there for us. I think it’s a little bit of a composure thing: when you’re not scoring goals, guys feel that every strike on goal has to be perfect instead of just hitting a half chance.
“But it’ll come. At this point in the season, defensively is what we’re focused on, and cleaning that thing up. I think we have, and now moving forward, we’ll look to score goals.”