Ten minutes into the second half of D.C. United's 1-0 loss to Seattle Sounders FC earlier tonight at RFK Stadium, I typed six words into my running game notes: "graye needs to play more simple."
I didn't think at the time it would be the difference between a disappointing-but-satisfactory draw and a loss that felt like the combination stomach punch and a kick in the groin - as described by D.C. goalkeeper Troy Perkins.
But therein lies the risk of hitching much of this team's success to youngsters, specifically tonight the rookie left back, Jordan Graye, who was playing with fire all evening and got burned, bad, when Sanna Nyassi and Fredy Montero blew past him and Montero bent the ball to Roger Levesque at the back post in the 89th minute.
Graye admitted his error, calling it a "casual play by me".
"The throw-in came in and it came back to me, and I kind of took a bad touch, and I missed the ball. He picked it up and I tried to get back, but I just couldn’t in time," said Graye. "We thought the least we could do was a tie at that point of the game, around the 75th, 80th minute, and the coaches started telling me to push up, push up further and further up the field a lot. I got caught up the field a lot just because that was just the nature of way the game was flowing. I just got caught up, and I guess, me getting caught up and trying to win the game, I ended up making the mistake that caused the error to lose it. That’s how it works out sometimes. I’ve gotta learn from it."
Perkins was clearly frustrated.
"We were a little fortunate the whole game, trying to dribble out the back and got lucky," he said. "We tried to do it again, and look what happens. We got to make better decisions. We have to know where we’re at in the field and the circumstances that we’re in. We’re at that point where maybe a point is enough, we just lump the ball up the field and step out. With young players, it’s going to happen. But at the end of the day, it’s still people’s livelihood, and jobs are on the line. It’s a tough job, at any professional level. Yeah, it’s a learning curve, but it comes to a point where mistakes end up costing people their livelihood."
Even new midfielder Branko Boskovic - who had some exquisite left-footed touches in his United debut - was pretty candid in his criticism.
"We must play more intelligent, you know, because if you have 85 minutes, 0-0, you must keep this or score," said Boskovic. "I think this team is very young, and this team needs the time."
Clyde Simms offered some consolation, but the reality is that D.C. doesn't have any margin for error. It's a bad time for rookies to start playing like rookies, yet history has shown that it's exactly the part of the season that they start hitting the wall.
"I feel like every rookie goes through it," said Simms. "I remember one time last year in Kansas City, Rodney [Wallace] made the same mistake, and he hasn’t made the same mistake since. When you play a rookie that much, that stuff is going to happen, no matter what team, no matter what player. It’s our job to keep him in good spirits. He’ll learn from it, and he’ll do better next time."
Those next times are running out very quickly.