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United digs deep into its bench in first loss in two months

Hamid, Najar unavailable as Pontius, Saragosa and McDonald fall early to injury

Raphael Augusto - Houston Playoffs - 2012

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Getty Images

Employing its 32nd different lineup from 37 matches due to Bill Hamid and Andy Najar suspensions, D.C. United utilized all three substitutions by the 56th minute in its 3-1 loss to the Houston Dynamo after Chris Pontius, Marcelo Saragosa and Brandon McDonald fell to injury. Lewis Neal replaced Pontius in the 12th minute, Raphael Augusto, entering his first-ever MLS match, subbed in for Saragosa in the 40th and Dudar, playing in his first game since September 1, came in for McDonald in the 56th.

“We got guys going down left and right,” Head Coach Ben Olsen said. “It’s not an excuse, but at some point, it’s just survival – we’re just surviving to get through this game.”

Having gone up 1-0 in 27th minute after rookie Nick DeLeon notched his second goal of the post-season, the Black-and-Red was on the offensive. In first half stoppage-time, Augusto was taken down just outside of the penalty area by Andre Hainault, causing many on the United side to cry for a red card, but no call was made. The Dynamo would go on to score three unanswered goals in the 52nd (Hainault), 67th (Will Bruin) and 81st (Kofi Sarkodie), showing why no opponent has been able to nab three points at BBVA Compass Stadium.

“Everyone in their stadium, everyone at home saw that it’s a red card,” Olsen said. “I don’t know what to say about it…I’m very sorry for the guys.”

The result ended United’s nine-match unbeaten streak, dating back to September 15. Three to one down on aggregate, United must win by two at RFK Stadium next Sunday, November 18 (4 p.m., NBC Sports Network) in Leg 2 of the Eastern Conference finals if the squad wants to force overtime, and if it comes to it, penalty kicks.

Luckily for the Black-and-Red, the team has not lost at home since its opener on March 10 against Sporting Kansas City, going on to claim the most points at home (40) in MLS. Moreover, United has won five matches on home turf by two or more goals and similarly, Houston has lost seven times by two or more goals on the road.

A favorable result is more than doable, but having a core of players return to full health will be crucial in this next week.