D.C. United re­mains win­less on MLS sea­son, fall­ing to Colum­bus, 2-0.

CREW 2, D.C. UNITED 0

The Washington Post Sunday - - SPORTS - BY STEVEN GOFF steven.goff@wash­post.com

Three matches into the MLS sea­son, and D.C. United’s frus­tra­tion is mount­ing. No vic­to­ries, no goals and al­most as many yel­low cards as shots on tar­get.

In a 2-0 de­feat to the Colum­bus Crew on Satur­day, United’s ag­gra­va­tion was rooted in both an­other empty at­tack­ing per­for­mance and the of­fi­ci­at­ing.

Ref­eree Ted Unkel whis­tled cap­tain Steve Birn­baum for two fouls on Ola Ka­mara re­sult­ing in penalty kicks — one le­git­i­mate, one dodgy. United (0-2-1) howled about sev­eral other de­ci­sions, in­clud­ing seven first-half off­side calls.

Fed­erico Higuain scored late in the first half, and Ka­mara con­verted mid­way through the sec­ond be­fore an an­nounced 14,031 at rainy RFK Sta­dium.

United play­maker Lu­ciano Acosta made his sea­son de­but af­ter re­cov­er­ing from an an­kle in­jury. He crack­led in the first half, then faded in the sec­ond and left with leg cramps. Striker Pa­trick Mullins de­parted in the 28th minute with a ham­string in­jury.

Crew goal­keeper Zack St­ef­fen, a former Univer­sity of Mary­land stand­out, made two ster­ling saves in the sec­ond half, thwart­ing a United at­tack that late last sea­son was among the best in MLS.

“I didn’t think it was a ter­ri­ble per­for­mance. Over­all, it was a step in the right di­rec­tion,” Coach Ben Olsen said a week af­ter a 4-0 de­feat at New York City FC. “Some good per­for­mances but not enough good per­for­mances.”

The two penalty-kick de­ci­sions were the dif­fer­ence, but with United’s at­tack sput­ter­ing, one would have been enough.

“First one I think is prob­a­bly a good call, and the sec­ond one’s a ter­ri­ble call,” Olsen said. “I’m pretty sure on both of those. Ref­er­ees should be pretty sure on call­ing PKs.” Birn­baum had a sim­i­lar view. “I thought I got a touch [on the ball] on the first one, but I came across him and def­i­nitely touched him. Sec­ond one I thought was pretty good de­fense. I guess you can’t touch him in the box. Ob­vi­ously, it cost us the game, both of them.”

United was en­cour­aged at the start. With rookie Ian Harkes pro­vid­ing sup­port, Acosta in­flu­enced the match with his dart­ing runs, quick foot­work and ac­cu­rate dis­tri­bu­tion. But still no goals.

Bill Hamid bailed out United in the early stages, thwart­ing Higuain twice and block­ing Justin Meram’s smash.

The Crew (1-1-1) broke through in the 38th minute on Higuain’s penalty kick.

Four min­utes into the sec­ond half, United could have pulled even with won­der­ful com­bi­na­tion work. Jose Guillermo Or­tiz, Mullins’s re­place­ment, played the ball to Lloyd Sam, whose back heel from the top of the box led Or­tiz rush­ing the right side. How­ever, St­ef­fen came off his line and blocked the ris­ing bid. Still no goal. Birn­baum ran down a high ball but, from an acute but man­age­able an­gle, headed it well wide. Still no goal. Olsen turned to Se­bas­tian Le Toux in the 60th minute, the French­man’s first ap­pear­ance since he joined the club this sea­son. Still no goal. Mid­way through the half, Ka­mara col­lected the ball in the box and took on Birn­baum. Birn­baum put his hand on the striker’s hip and ap­peared to push. It wasn’t an egre­gious act but enough to catch Unkel’s at­ten­tion and result in an­other penalty. Hamid guessed cor­rectly again but couldn’t stop Ka­mara’s low ef­fort.

It was the end to a rough week for Birn­baum, who didn’t per­form well last week­end and was a sur­prise omis­sion from the U.S. na­tional team ros­ter for the two up­com­ing World Cup qual­i­fiers.

St­ef­fen pre­served the shutout with an out­stand­ing save on Nyarko’s 12-yard header in the 70th minute. Still no goal. Acosta’s cramps opened the door for La­mar Nea­gle, last year’s goal leader. Still no goal. “It’s frus­trat­ing,” de­fender Tay­lor Kemp said. “I do think this was a bet­ter per­for­mance from us as a group. Our pos­ses­sion was bet­ter. Our move­ment was a lit­tle bit bet­ter. Clearly we’ve got to get bet­ter in the fi­nal third.”

With next week­end off, United will have to wait un­til April 1 against vis­it­ing Philadel­phia to end the scor­ing drought.

“When it’s not go­ing your way, it’s not go­ing your way,” Nyarko said. “Th­ese things can turn on a swivel. We just need to not aban­don what we’re about and what we be­lieve in. We have good pieces. It’s just a tough start.”

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