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Growing pains proving extra painful for United

Crop of promising youngsters in DC not getting the job done now

It’s been a painful season for everyone associated with D.C. United, but the club and the fans have taken solace in the promising crop of homegrown youngsters already making a striking impact at the senior level.

But there’s a major problem with the likes of Bill Hamid, Jordan Graye and Andy Najar learning on the job: Their growing pains are displayed front and center, and often magnified by the merciless realities of MLS competition.

FULL MATCH HIGHLIGHTS

On Saturday night, Hamid made the sort of error that befalls every goalkeeper at some point or another in his career, misplaying a poorly hit back pass to gift Columbus a goal—the only goal on the night, as it turned out. Guillermo Barros Schelotto, ever canny and experienced, applied light pressure and was there to punish the 19-year-old goalkeeper’s sin, handing the Crew a 1-0 lead they would not relinquish.

“The field’s playing kind of poor, but at the same time, there’s no excuse for that mistake on my part,” Hamid said after the match. “It shouldn’t have been a goal, shouldn’t have been a mistake. Maybe I could’ve one-timed it out, who knows. But I apologize to my teammates, to the coaches, to the staff, to the fans, for the mistake.”

Hamid’s slip-up was obvious, but it was nearly eclipsed by the inadequacy of his attacking teammates. Actually, the attack started the match promisingly only to fade as the evening unfolded. Crew goalkeeper Will Hesmer did not need to make a single save as his back four snuffed out D.C.’s danger time and time again. The end result was a record-tying 15th shutout against United in 2010.

“It was a tough night up front, really,” said D.C. striker Danny Allsopp, who looked threatening in the game’s early stages but disappeared in the second half before making way for Jaime Moreno. “We tried to change things and it didn’t really make much difference. They played well at the back.”

Much like their gutsy 2-1 US Open Cup overtime win at RFK Stadium on Wednesday, Robert Warzycha’s entire Columbus team demonstrated the poise and self-belief that United simply cannot seem to muster this year.

“Over the last two games, were they that much better than us? I don’t think so,” D.C coach Ben Olsen said. “But they’re 2-0 (this week against us) and they’ve made the plays that mattered, and we haven’t. So right now that’s the difference between us.”

Despite the particularly costly timing of Hamid’s blunder, Olsen shrugged off the incident as part of a young player’s growth process.

“Goalies have those every now and then,” said United’s interim boss. “I don’t think it was a great ball back to him. Keep in mind that, too. He’ll regroup. As a young goalkeeper he’s going to have those instances and he’ll regroup from that just fine.”

The young shotstopper may soon be shelved for the rest of the campaign, however, with club officials anxious to find a long-term fix to a nagging problem with his right shoulder. Similar news also filtered down regarding several other United players, adding to the injury crisis which left Olsen without enough bodies to fill the 18-man game day roster on Saturday.

Marc Burch is out for the rest of the season after re-aggravating a foot injury on Wednesday. Striker Adam Cristman is sidelined by a knee meniscus problem that may require surgery. And Chris Pontius continues to battle a problematic right hamstring that dates back to US national team camp in January. He may eventually have to go under the knife as well.

For Olsen & Co., such setbacks have simply become par for the course this season.

“It’s a bit of a broken record at this point, right?” he said. “Unfortunately we’re not making big plays. You’ve heard this before. This is who we are right now. I think there’s part of us that’s growing, and there’s part of us that is kind of staying the same, and the part that’s staying the same is costing us games. So I don’t know what else to tell you.”