United vs. Sounders: D.C. has little spark as Obafemi Martins scores twice for Seattle

Ted S. Warren/AP - Seattle’s Obafemi Martins closes in on United goalkeeper Joe Willis just before scoring the game’s opening goal as D.C.’s Ethan White trails. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

SEATTLE – D.C. United’s regular season has been a lost cause for weeks now, almost every match a futile exercise marred by early deficits and, inevitably, another defeat.

United works hard, huffing and puffing to salvage a few points before the MLS record books require revisions, but glaring deficiencies continue to hound the wayward club.

The visit to CenturyLink Field on Wednesday night was no different — a predictable pre-Fourth of July dud. United did not embarrass itself but didn’t distinguish itself either, yielding Obafemi Martins’s early and late goals during a 2-0 loss to the Seattle Sounders before 39,180 observers.

United (2-13-3) failed to score for the 11th time, and with two regular attackers ailing, was as gentle as the breezes crossing Elliott Bay.

“It’s tough to say, but I was pleased with most of the way we played, the way we built up our attack, and again the final stuff just isn’t there,” Coach Ben Olsen said. “The quality [up front] is just not there right now.”

Six individuals in MLS have recorded at least as many goals as United (eight), which fell to 0-6-2 on the road with a 12-1 goal difference.

United is seeking help from overseas but has yet to finalize a deal. In the interim, the club continues to present a meek attack.

“We do well to get in positions, but in the final third it’s got to be a lot better,” forward Chris Pontius said.

“That’s the difference from last year [when United reached the Eastern Conference finals] to now: We were picking out players in the box. The runs were real. We were big boys. We were hard to handle. We just haven’t been that this year.”

With goalkeeper Bill Hamid on U.S. national team assignment for several weeks, Joe Willis made his third start of the regular season. (He has also started three U.S. Open Cup games.) He was not at fault on Martins’s goals in the 19th minute and in second-half stoppage time.

Alain Rochat, the first-choice left back, joined Perry Kitchen in central midfield, where he has shown positive signs in spot duty since being acquired from Vancouver last month.

With Dwayne De Rosario and Nick DeLeon sidelined by injury, Sainey Nyassi and Lionard Pajoy were tossed into the abysmal attack.

Notorious for its poor starts, United was competent for nearly 20 minutes. Alas, the good fortune did not last. Brad Evans supplied a through ball to Martins, who took a direct and unobstructed route to the top of the penalty area before beating Willis with a clinical finish to the low left corner.

It was the 28th goal conceded by United — and the 14th in the opening 30 minutes. In Seattle’s past 40 matches, the Sounders (7-5-3) are 32-0-8 when scoring first — the second-longest streak in MLS history.

Although they were on even ground for the first portion of the match, Olsen and the players were disappointed in the way they started things.

“I didn’t like the fire we brought for the first 10-15 minutes,” Olsen said.

“The last 20 minutes of the first half, the first 20 minutes of the second half, we put them to work,” defender Ethan White said. Before that, however, “we didn’t work hard enough to put them under enough pressure. We gave them too much respect. Once we stepped up and put in some tackles and woke up and realized we were men too, the game changed.”

United had a few good services, but Pajoy lacked a sense of place and was caught offside repeatedly.

Early in the second half, Nyassi’s eight-yard header did not come close to the target and Pontius’s good look was gobbled up by Seattle goalkeeper Michael Gspurning.

The Sounders threatened to put the game out of reach with swift counterattacks but lacked synchronicity. On one of their few connections, a gorgeous give and go between Eddie Johnson and Martins, Willis made a one-on-one save against Johnson in the penalty area.

A minute later, Gspurning tapped Pontius’s 30-yard threat over the crossbar.

Seattle was rarely bothered by United but struggled to secure the result. Mauro Rosales whiffed on an inviting nine-yarder in the 73rd minute.

Olsen replaced a midfielder (Nyassi) with a forward (Casey Townsend) in the late stages, but with the initial build-up to his liking, he made no other moves.

United stirred during the final five minutes — Kitchen’s shot through traffic and Pontius’s distribution created brief moments of anxiety for Seattle. The outcome, however, was the same as it ever was.

“It’s frustrating to keep saying there are positives, there are positives, but we are not coming out with the result,” Kitchen said. “We’re close but we’re not executing.”

Martins closed it out in stoppage time, taking advantage of poor touches by White and then James Riley deep in the box.

“I still like a lot about this team,” Olsen said. “I am not blowing smoke. I still like a lot of what I saw. That’s one of the frustrating parts about this: I like so much about parts of our group. It’s just not getting the final stuff right.”

United notes: The club signed American central midfielder Jared Jeffrey, 23, who spent the past three years in the German fourth division with Mainz’s reserve squad. He played for the U.S. under-17, under-20 and under-23 national teams. He will join United next week. . . .

MLS fined Olsen $2,000 for postgame comments about referee Matthew Foerster following a 1-0 loss to Vancouver last Saturday. . . .

The club will decide in the next couple days whether De Rosario (hip flexor) and DeLeon (ankle) will join the delegation in Denver for Sunday night’s match against the Colorado Rapids. Olsen, however, said the “early signs are, they are struggling.” . . .

Defender Dejan Jakovic (adductor) missed his seventh consecutive league match. . . . Defender Brandon McDonald, who lost his starting job last month, was left off the travel roster.

 
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