D.C. United's season a success despite early playoff exit

Ben Krimmel
November 02, 2018 - 1:20 pm

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

D.C. United's incredible run after a mid-season turnaround from Eastern Conference cellar dwellers to a playoff berth and the No. 4 seed ended Thursday night at Audi Field in a penalty shootout loss to Columbus Crew.

Ben Olsen's United squad fought back to send the game to a shootout, with a 116th minute equalizer from Nick DeLeon, but failed to score on three of their five attempts and were eliminated by the visitors, 3-2. The loss is a sour note to a splendid season, which saw the signing of Wayne Rooney, the opening of a new stadium, and brought renewed interest in the team from the people of the DMV.

“It was a hell of a run,” Olsen said after the game. “Don’t let this spoil what these guys did to set the right tone and foundation for Audi Field and the next generation of D.C. United, who we are and what we’re about. They got this city interested again in soccer and our team.”

After Columbus converted their first penalty, Rooney, who tallied 12 goals and seven assists on the season, had his penalty saved by ex-Maryland Terrapin Zack Steffen​.

D.C.'s  Luciano Acosta, who had a hand in 27 goals this season, had a chance to equalize on United's fourth kick, but the Argentine was also denied by Steffen. Columbus handed their hosts a lifeline when, another ex-Terp, Patrick Mullins hit the post from 12 yards out. But the final blow for United came when the man who scored the extra time equalizer, DeLeon, blasted his spot kick over the bar.

Afterward, a teary DeLeon said, “I shanked it.”

The season ended in heartbreak, with D.C.'s top two contributors – Rooney and Accosta – failing in the clutch, but that won't take the shine off the unlikely playoff run.

While The Junkies and Feinstein dislike the penalty shootout, they are wrong to advocate changing the system. 

Because of soccer's drastic limitations on substitutions (only three of the 11 players may be changed over 90 minutes) unlimited overtime, like in the NHL, is not possible due to concerns over player safety. It is too dangerous for players to continue playing without risking serious injury. 

Their suggestion to reconstitute the sudden-death "Golden Goal" rule is also unsound because the style of play in extra time would become exceedingly turgid. The game would become a defensive struggle with neither side interested in committing sufficient numbers forward to attack and risk leaving themselves open on the counter while playing on tired legs.

The penalty shootout may be not be fair and may seem gimmicky, but it is the best way to settle an even score after 120 minutes of soccer. Penalties build drama, create iconic moments (who can forget the 1999 FIFA Women's World Cup Final?), and, after 120 minutes, just get the game over with already.

After the drama of the shootout, there were only tears for United. On Friday, Rooney posted a heartfelt thank you to the fans. 

“It sucks,” United goalkeeper Bill Hamid said, “because I think we really believed we had the squad to win a trophy in the inaugural season of Audi Field.”

Follow Ben Krimmel and 106.7 The Fan on Twitter.