(Below: Christian Benteke returns to midfield after scoring his second goal)
But it wasn't enough...
It was a dark and stormy night yesterday at Audi Field (September 23) with Tropical Storm Ophelia drenching pretty much all seats and blowing hats off of people’s heads. Fortunately, the temperature was in the 60s, so it was only miserable rather than horrendous.
It was a stormy night in the net, as well. DC broke out of its offensive slump with a hat trick (3 goals) by Christian Benteke. Unfortunately, they gave up 5 goals to the New York Red Bulls and lost an important game, 5-3.
New York started the scoring in the 16th minute, when Omir Fernandez kicked a ball over the top of Brendan Hines-Ike from about 10 yards out for the opening goal. Hines-Ike went down to head the ball away but Fernandez got there first. Five minutes later, Benteke scored off a corner that was redirected from Gabriel Pirani. Benteke scored his second in the 31st minute in a scramble in front of goal, getting it into the net on his third shot.
The referee had let obvious fouls on both sides go uncalled, and then things got a little absurd. He had called one penalty on a handball on Russell Canouse which was obviously outside the penalty area (and was overturned by VAR), but called a second one for Durkin tripping that was quite, quite soft. Fernandez equalized in the 44th minute. Two minutes later, he called an equally soft penalty on New York’s Andres Reyes, and Benteke restored DC’s lead (and completed his hat trick). But DC’s defense was severely lacking 3 minutes later and New York’s Cameron Harper scored unmarked on a corner kick to even the score at 3-3 at halftime.
The second half was less frantic, but New York got another goal from a corner as Sean Nealis scored in the 58th minute, also unmarked. DC came close on a Benteke header but New York’s goalie Carlos Coronel made a nice save. The DC attack fizzled after substitutions later in the second half. Rooney rolled the dice at the end, taking off a defender for an attacker (Hines-Ike for Robertha) in the 88th minute, but it just resulted in a 5th goal for New York from John Tolkin. Entertaining game, but disappointing result.
The loss does not eliminate DC from playoff contention, not yet. Most of our competitors keep losing, too. We are now in 10th place in the Eastern Conference, one point behind NYCFC and Montreal who are tied for 8th. NYCFC has played the same number of games as us, and Montreal has a game in hand on us. Below us are the Red Bulls and Chicago (2 points back with a game in hand), Charlotte (3 points back with two games in hand) and Miami (4 points back with 1 game in hand). We do currently have goal difference advantages on everyone except NYCFC (with whom we are tied) . All of these teams (including us) are at least 2 games under .500, so do any of us really deserve to make the playoffs? Probably not, but that’s the way it’s set up.
Realistically, DC would probably need to win at least 2 of its final 3 games to squeeze in. They will happen in the space of a week: next Saturday, September 30 at Vancouver; Wednesday October 4 at Austin; and our regular season finale on Saturday October 7 against NYCFC at home. If we are still alive by then, the NYCFC game will be particularly crucial.