D.C. United’s June resurgence crashed back to earth with a 2-0 road loss to the Columbus Crew on Saturday, tempering the optimism generated in recent weeks and offering up several uncomfortable reminders of the team’s flaws.
The setback in Ohio featured two bugaboos D.C. thought they’d left in the rearview mirror during a six-game unbeaten streak in all competitions: sputtering offensive output and late-game collapses. United competed well against the Eastern Conference pacesetters, and have every reason to point angry fingers at referee Terry Vaughn for missing the sneaky handball that enabled Guillermo Barros Schelotto to net the game-winner from point-blank range.
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Vaughn also awarded the Crew a penalty kick in second-half injury time with the result effectively assured, though goalkeeper Troy Perkins blocked Steven Lenhart’s poorly-hit effort to save his team’s blushes to some degree.
But the Black-and-Red can only blame themselves for failing to seize scoring opportunities long beforehand. Chris Pontius blazed over the crossbar after surging deep into the Columbus penalty area in the 33rd minute, and five minutes later target striker Adam Cristman could not hit the target when Eric Brunner’s weakly-headed back pass presented him with a one-on-one against netminder Will Hesmer.
At the other end, United’s defense was all at sea on the corner kick that led to Brunner’s back-post tap-in, revealing the sort of hesitance and disorganization that had supposedly been vanquished weeks ago. Yet again, the back line was unable to stay in tune for all 90 minutes, and they still boast just one clean sheet this season.
United sides of the past have been dynamic enough to create hatfuls of chances, thereby lessening the pressure to net a high percentage of them. But Curt Onalfo’s team has struggled to overcome wasteful finishing and it seems clear that the current roster is ill-equipped to spurn any openings that present themselves.
For now, the club’s fans can only hope that designated player signing Branko Boskevic can give this workmanlike side a touch of classy creativity when he arrives from Europe next month. Until then, D.C.’s limitations will render the side vulnerable to exploitation by intelligent, well-drilled opposition and any meaningful movement up the standings is still a long shot.