D.C. United falls to Real Salt Lake, putting MLS playoff hopes in jeopardy

George Frey/GETTY IMAGES - D.C. United’s Chris Pontius takes the ball from Real Salt Lake’s Tony Beltran.

SANDY, Utah — D.C. United played with passion and conviction Saturday night, a refreshing renewal after several limp performances on the road. But consistent with the club’s travel shortcomings this summer, United conceded a goal shortly after halftime and dropped a 1-0 decision to Real Salt Lake in front of 20,334 at Rio Tinto Stadium.

“We talked about having to change our mentality on the road and the way we go about things to have success,” Coach Ben Olsen said. “We did a lot of that, and it showed. The guys gave a hell of an effort. It’s just disappointing the final stuff wasn’t there. If we play that way on the road, we will start picking up points on the road.”

After an 84-minute lightning delay interrupted the first half, United (12-10-5, 41 points) lost its sixth straight away match and fell into a fifth-place tie with the Chicago Fire (two fewer game played) in MLS’s Eastern Conference. The Columbus Crew (12-8-6, 42) overtook both D.C. and Chicago with a last-minute victory over Montreal on Saturday.

Five clubs will advance to the playoffs in late October, and what seemed six weeks ago like a sure postseason berth for United is now in jeopardy. D.C. is 2-5-2 in its past nine league outings.

There were, however, signs of encouragement. Despite playing a fifth game in 14 days and missing several regulars, United displayed more fire than in recent trips and threatened several times, most notably Dwayne De Rosario’s drive off the left post in the first half.

Will Johnson’s 49th-minute header was decisive for Real (14-10-4), which ended a four-game winless stretch and extended its mastery over United in Utah to 6-0-1 since 2006.

“We created enough chances to at least tie this game and maybe sneak out with a win,” defender Dejan Jakovic said. “It’s a tough one to swallow, even though it was probably one of our better games on the road.”

Midfielder-defender Andy Najar (tooth abscess), midfielder Branko Boskovic (virus) and forward Hamdi Salihi were the latest absences, joining defenders Daniel Woolard (concussion) and Robbie Russell (foot).

As a result, the bench was far from full strength and the starting backline required adjustment. Brandon McDonald moved from the center to the right side and Jakovic and Emiliano Dudar partnered in the middle.

Olsen stuck with De Rosario and Lionard Pajoy on the frontline, with Maicon Santos back from a toe injury in reserve.

The match had barely gotten underway when flashes of lightning drew closer to the stadium. At the 3-minute 15-second mark, referee Silviu Petrescu waved the players off the field.

Multiple storms passed through the valley as the sun faded, creating eerily beautiful cloud formations above the Wasatch Range and a rainbow beyond the south end of the suburban stadium.

The players were afforded 15 minutes to warm-up again before play resumed. From late afternoon until the weather ambush, the temperature dropped about 20 degrees.

When play re-started, both sides released pent-up energy and attacked with vigor. Real’s Javier Morales pumped a distant shot that Bill Hamid touched over the crossbar and United’s Chris Pontius cut back in the box but curled a shot wide of the far post.

In the 28th minute, Pajoy’s high pressure forced a defensive mistake. Pajoy supplied De Rosario for a wicked bid from 28 yards. With both arms extended, goalkeeper Nick Rimando appeared to have a slight touch on the ball before it crashed off the left post and caromed across the six-yard box, barely missing the right corner.

United continued to attack with confidence but lacked a final, decisive pass and finishing touch. Real’s late pressure forced United to make desperate clearances from the box. The half ended with several threats but no goals.

Real broke through four minutes after halftime on a fortuitous deflection. Paulo Junior’s cross from the left side nicked the sliding McDonald. Before Hamid could adjust, Johnson beat him to it and nodded in from four yards for his third league goal of the year.

The deflection “threw a lot of us off,” Hamid said.

United pressed for the equalizer, but Rimando blocked Pajoy’s effort deep in the box, the Colombian fired a free kick fractionally wide of the top left corner and Rimando disrupted De Rosario in the box.

“Our energy and commitment was good,” Olsen said. “I’m just disappointed their efforts didn’t come up with anything. [ellip] If we put that kind of effort and mentality into the rest of the season, we will get to where we want to be.”

United notes: De Rosario and Jakovic will report to Canadian training camp ahead of World Cup qualifiers against Panama on Friday and Sept. 11. Despite the injury, Salihi is scheduled to join Albania and possibly play in the second of two qualifiers. [ellip] United will not play again until Sept. 15 against the New England Revolution at RFK Stadium.

REVOLUTION 0, UNION 0: Matt Reis had seven saves to help host New England play to a scoreless draw with the Philadelphia Union, extending the Revolution’s winless streak to a franchise-record 10 games.

New England has not won since beating New York on July 8, going 0-7-3 since.

Former Maryland goalie Zac MacMath made three saves for the Union.

CREW 2, IMPACT 1: Emilio Renteria scored in the third minute of stoppage time to lift host Columbus to a victory over Montreal. Renteria entered the match in the 77th minute and received a pass by Federico Higuain from the left flank and scored from 12 yards out to give the Crew its fourth straight win.

SPORTING K.C. 2, TORONTO FC 1: Oriol Rosell scored his first MLS goal in the 87th minute, lifting Sporting Kansas City to a victory at home.

GALAXY 2, WHITECAPS 0: Juninho and David Beckham scored for Los Angeles as it beat visiting Vancouver.

— Associated Press

 
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