D.C. United must refocus after a heated 1-1 draw

D.C. United may have inadvertently exposed just how close its season has come to teetering on the brink.

For all of the anger directed at referee Mark Geiger in the final minutes of Sunday's 1-1 draw with Philadelphia, United players also did plenty of yelling and screaming at each other as the game spiraled out of control.

Chris Pontius barked at Emiliano Dudar after the Argentinian center back got red carded for a nasty tackle. Brandon McDonald jawed with fellow defender Chris Korb after the final whistle. A red card for the usually serene Branko Boskovic might have been the most surprising moment of all.

United (11-8-4, 37 points) is hoping to ride that emotion, not shy away from it, against the surging Chicago Fire (12-7-5, 41 points), who have won three in a row and sit just in front of D.C. in the Eastern Conference standings.

"I think that's good because we're starting to see guys really caring," United midfielder Dwayne De Rosario said. "It shows that passion, and I think guys are starting to take a lot of onus on themselves and expecting a lot from others. When things don't go right, you better believe that guys have to be accountable for the mistakes now."

Pontius said he harbored no ill will toward Dudar, but he didn't apologize, either.

"I have nothing personal against the guy," Pontius said. "I want to win games, though. Whatever happens on the field happens on the field, and you go back into the locker room, and none of that stuff is brought back in there."

Korb equated his bust-up with McDonald to "fighting with your brother."

"I think it got blown out of proportion," Korb said. "We talked it over in the locker room. Two minutes, it's over with and back to normal. It happens all the time in practice, all the time in games, and you've just got to work your way through it."

Red card suspensions for Dudar and Boskovic against Chicago could be significant. In particular, D.C. improved significantly against the Union when Boskovic entered to play attacking midfield and De Rosario shifted to forward.

Where once United was vying for the best record in the league, it's now won once in its last five contests and is currently just barely clinging to the fifth and final playoff spot in the East. The precarious positioning is reflected in the players' quick tempers.

United's fiery coach, Ben Olsen, has often recalled fights that broke out on a regular basis in practice in his early days as a D.C. player. But following the Union game, he made sure his players understood that composure is part of the job between the lines.

"That just can't happen on camera, that's my message," Olsen said. "You want to come in the locker room and throw someone against the wall if they screwed up, that's part of this. That's emotional professional sports. But I can't have it on the field in the camera's eyes because believe it or not, it happens more than you guys think."