Light­ning Strikes, but D.C. United Does Not

Weather De­lay Only Pro­longs An­other Loss

The Washington Post Sunday - - Sports - By Steven Goff

COLUM­BUS, Ohio, April 28 — The only thing that could in­ter­rupt an­other D.C. United loss Satur­day night was the rain and light­ning storm that en­gulfed Colum­bus Crew Sta­dium with about six min­utes re­main­ing.

All it ended up do­ing was pro­long­ing United’s mis­ery.

Fol­low­ing a 24-minute in­ter­rup­tion, the Crew se­cured a 1-0 vic­tory be­fore 13,572 shel­terseek­ing spectators to leave United (0-3) with its worst start since the in­au­gu­ral cam­paign in 1996 and the long­est reg­u­lar sea­son los­ing streak (six, dat­ing from last year) in club his­tory.

For­mer D.C. de­fender Ezra Hen­drick­son scored a rare goal in the 28th minute and the Crew (10-3) with­stood pres­sure through­out the weather-de­layed sec­ond half.

“We just can’t find it right now,” team cap­tain Jaime Moreno said. “It’s frus­trat­ing and it hurts a lot be­cause we did so much hard work in pre­sea­son. [Since the Cham­pi­ons’ Cup], we’ve gone down­hill. This is the time we have to be to­gether and keep be­liev­ing this is go­ing to turn around.”

De­spite hav­ing two weeks to pre­pare, United showed few signs of re­vers­ing this dis­ap­point­ing start. The de­fen­sive ef­fort was im­proved, but an­other ter­ri­ble let­down mid­way through the first half un­der­mined it. The at­tack showed signs of life late in the first half and pe­ri­od­i­cally in the sec­ond, sparked by Brazil­ian mid­fielder Fred, but only a cou­ple of shots were of a threat­en­ing na­ture. D.C. needed 78 min­utes to earn its first cor­ner kick.

“If this hap­pened in the mid­dle of the sea­son, it would be a lit­tle dif­fer­ent,” goal­keeper Troy Perkins said. “But we haven’t got­ten a win yet and we’ve given up seven goals in three games. It’s tough to sleep at night, I’ll tell you that. It’s not a good en­vi­ron­ment to set for th­ese guys right now.”

Coach Tom Soehn tried to shake his club out of its funk by mak­ing two sig­nif­i­cant changes to the start­ing lineup — adding Fred to mid­field and re­plac­ing de­fender Fa­cundo Er­pen with Devon McTavish — and sub­tly ad­just­ing the for­ma­tion to pre­vent space in the back.

The de­fen­sive ef­fort, though, slum­bered in the 28th minute and, for the third con­sec­u­tive match, United found it­self with an early deficit. Brian Car­roll, en­dur­ing a very poor start to the sea­son, gave away the ball near mid­field, al­low­ing Ned Grabavoy to slide a di­ag­o­nal pass to Joseph Ngwenya in stride on the left. Ngwenya crossed to Hen­drick­son, whose ini­tial shot was cleared by McTavish.

Josh Gros tried to al­le­vi­ate the threat by nod­ding the ball for­ward, but it fell to Hen­drick­son, who slid a 10-yard shot through traf­fic. It was the sec­ond goal in two sea­sons for Hen­rick­son, a lanky and some­times awk­ward de­fender who has been in the league since 1997 and helped United win the 2004 ti­tle.

“It didn’t have a lot of pace on it; I’ve got to save it,” Perkins said.

Once again, United had to chase the game against a club con­tent to ab­sorb pres­sure and coun­ter­at­tack. United be­gan to find a rhythm late in the half, but the fi­nal pass was a bit off each time.

Soehn had seen enough of Car­roll, re­plac­ing him with Justin Moose at the half. Car­roll be­came the sec­ond long­time starter in as many games to be benched at half­time (Er­pen was pulled two weeks ago).

Fred em­barked on sev­eral elec­tri­fy­ing runs through the heart of the Crew’s de­fense and, with pos­ses­sion in its fa­vor and Colum­bus chas­ing the game, United seemed on the verge of pulling even. Most of its bids, how­ever, were ei­ther mis­placed or struck with­out much ve­loc­ity.

Crew goal­keeper Andy Gruenebaum fi­nally was tested in the 68th, re­act­ing to his left to punch away Chris­tian Gomez’s 25-yard free kick. The Crew missed three golden chances to seal the out­come be­fore ref­eree Jorge Gon­za­lez sus­pended play. Not that it mat­tered for United.

“We’re not go­ing to start point­ing fin­gers and let this team un­ravel,” mid­fielder Ben Olsen said. “It’s very im­por­tant for us right now to stay to­gether be­cause we are frus­trated. It is a tough stretch we’ve gone through. It takes its toll. We’re not get­ting breaks but we’re also killing our­selves.”

Soehn added: “We’re all frus­trated. We all know we are bet­ter than our record shows, but in re­al­ity, we are 0-3.”

BY MATT SUL­LI­VAN — COLUM­BUS DIS­PATCH

Crew de­fender Rusty Pierce, left, keeps United mid­fielder Ben Olsen at arm’s length in the first half.

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