Lightning Strikes, but D.C. United Does Not
Weather Delay Only Prolongs Another Loss
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.”
Crew defender Rusty Pierce, left, keeps United midfielder Ben Olsen at arm’s length in the first half.