At this point in the season, can reinforcements even make a difference?
Sure, Pablo Hernandez had a decent debut at forward for D.C. United, but to ask him to be the difference in an attempt to topple the best team in Major League Soccer, when there are so many other holes left to fill? It seems like too little too late.
Especially when rookie Jordan Graye continues to get asked to shoulder a load well beyond his years. Three nights after his defensive mistake opened the door for Seattle to steal a late game-winner at D.C., Graye was beaten on both plays that eventually led to Los Angeles goals in the Galaxy's 2-1 win on Sunday night.
Dropping to 3-11-3 overall and 2-6-1 at home, D.C. is one loss away from matching its worst loss total at home in franchise history. In 2000, when United finished 8-18-6, the team went 6-7-3 at RFK, the only season that it has ever finished the year with a losing record at home.
The first goal was indirectly attributed to Graye, as Sean Franklin flicked a header over him and left him sprawled on the ground as he ran down the right side with the ball before crossing to Edson Buddle. D.C. goalkeeper Troy Perkins may deserve more blame on the goal itself by Buddle, as Dejan Jakovic's block did the job on the forward's first attempt but Perkins could only get his left heel on the second.
But Graye compounded his error in the second half with another cheap giveaway to Franklin, who then pinged the ball at goal and off the outstretched arms of Julius James for a penalty kick.
Graye isn't using his inexperience as an excuse. But he hinted that he may not have been in the best state of mind for the Galaxy match.
"It’s still my responsibility," he said. "I know that play [that led to the James handball], the coaches told me go with my first instinct during the games, and I know I’ve kind of just been hesitating ever since that play last game [vs. Seattle]. On the second goal, I didn’t go with my first instincts. I should’ve probably taken it out wide, but instead I just tried to give it up because in my mind, I’m just not really trying to dribble out of the back. I tried to pass it quickly, and he just ended up deflecting it. It was just right down our throats. It was an unlucky hand ball, but it still goes back to me."
“It’s a two-sided coin,” said Perkins. “On one side, you sit there, and you want to hammer the guy. The other side, if you do that, then he’s done. We got to say something, but on the flip side, we’ve got to bring him along as well. We have to be smart in how we do it.”
"He’s our third left back," said United head coach Curt Onalfo. "We have Marc Burch – broken foot. We have Rodney Wallace – broken leg. He’s a fourth-round draft pick that’s had some very good games for us, and he’s made some errors that have cost us. Unfortuantely, that’s what young players go through. Just like every one of our players, I care about him, and I want thim to learn from it, and we’re going to do everything possible to help him."
Onalfo has little choice but to continue to play Graye, given the team's newest additions are Hernandez and Branko Boskovic, neither who were brought in to shore up the back line. And things could get worse, too, as both Chris Pontius (foot) and Jakovic (leg muscle) both left Sunday's match with injury. Before Thursday's game, D.C. general manager Dave Kasper said he was going to evaluate the roster as it was, hinting that as of that moment, no other major moves were imminent. Two losses later, he may be forced to change his thinking.