The Washington Post Sunday - - SPORTS - BY DIL­LON MULLAN dil­lon.mullan@wash­

D.C. United’s strug­gles con­tinue in a 3-1 loss to the Hous­ton Dy­namo.

It didn’t take long for D.C. United to dig it­self a three-goal deficit Satur­day night against the Hous­ton Dy­namo.

First, rookie Ian Harkes lost track of his man while de­fend­ing a cor­ner, and An­drew Wenger’s bounc­ing header gave Hous­ton the lead. Then on suc­ces­sive at­tacks, United’s back line failed to de­tect en­emy for­wards in its box. Mauro Man­o­tas was un­marked when he tapped in from close range. With time and space, Memo Ro­driguez gath­ered him­self eight yards from goal and pow­ered the ball home with his fore­head.

Each of these de­fen­sive lapses in con­cen­tra­tion came in the first 17 min­utes, and United went on to lose, 3-1, for its fifth straight de­feat in MLS play.

“They cer­tainly started with more bite,” United Coach Ben Olsen said. “They seemed to have more en­ergy, more fo­cus, for the first 15 to 20 min­utes. If you take that por­tion of the game off, things can go wrong. And things went wrong.”

United (5-13-3, 18 points) was sharper af­ter the half­time break as Hous­ton (9-7-5, 32 points) sat back on its lead. Af­ter cap­tain Bobby Boswell’s leap­ing header drifted into the top cor­ner in the 62nd minute, United had a goal and half an hour to fight for a point.

And it did fight. With Olsen an­i­mat­edly bark­ing in­struc­tions while pac­ing the side­line, United kept coun­ter­at­tack­ing Hous­ton on its heels with 70.5 per­cent of the sec­ond-half pos­ses­sion.

“They re­group at half­time, and they knew they’re just go­ing to sit in. We knew they were go­ing to sit in,” Boswell said. “It’s not ideal. No team should give up three goals in a whole game, sure as heck not in 17 min­utes.”

But United put just two of its 11 sec­ond-half shots on tar­get as a hand­ful of chances missed, pre­vent­ing a more dra­matic fin­ish. Just be­fore Boswell’s goal, Pa­trick Nyarko watched a back­post header get cleared off the line be­fore play­maker Lu­ciano Acosta gath­ered the re­bound and pushed his best chance match wide of the post.

In the 75th minute, Harkes’s free kick curled across the six­yard box and dropped to the foot of for­ward Deshorn Brown. With the net gap­ing, the Ja­maican’s slid­ing at­tempt rolled past the post.

Gold Cup duty kept United’s Amer­i­can goal­keeper Bill Hamid out of the lineup, and he isn’t of the ex­pected to re­turn to ac­tion un­til Satur­day night in Min­nesota. Still, the de­fense was the main cul­prit against the Dy­namo.

“You can’t re­place a guy like Bill, but they were tap-ins tonight. It’s not like [start­ing goal­keeper Travis Worra] botched any­thing. It’s a team thing, man,” Boswell said. “We’ve got to fig­ure it out as a group or we’ll die in­di­vid­u­ally. On good teams, coaches hold play­ers ac­count­able. On great teams, play­ers hold play­ers ac­count­able. We got to do a bet­ter job with each other, fight­ing for each other.”

The Gold Cup also kept the Dy­namo’s top two scor­ers, Mex­i­can Erick Tor­res and Hon­duran Al­berth Elis, out of the match. Tor­res and Elis had com­bined for 18 of Hous­ton’s 34 goals be­fore Satur­day. With­out them, Hous­ton still won on the road for the first time this sea­son.

On Wed­nes­day night in Seat­tle, United be­came the first team in MLS his­tory to lead by three goals and lose in reg­u­la­tion. The Sounders trailed 3-0 in the 50th minute and won, 4-3. Against Hous­ton, United had 73 min­utes to mount a come­back of its own but never did.

United is in last place in the East­ern Con­fer­ence and 13 points out of a play­off po­si­tion with 13 matches re­main­ing.

“I know you guys don’t be­lieve me when I say it,” Olsen said, “but I do have a lot of be­lief in this group. I do. But we got to start soon.”


D.C. United’s Ian Harkes strug­gles to gain his foot­ing as he bat­tles Hous­ton’s Alex at RFK Sta­dium.

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