COLUMBUS, Ohio, Sept. 25 -- D.C. United was distressed about several aspects of its 1-0 loss to the Columbus Crew on Saturday night -- a result that extended United's wretched road record and slowed its late-season march toward the MLS playoffs.
The club lamented its missed scoring chances and expressed concern about the status of star forward Jaime Moreno, who left with a strained left hamstring midway through the first half. But what the players and coaches wanted to discuss in detail was referee Jair Marrufo, who ejected all-star defender Ryan Nelsen just before halftime and had ongoing exchanges with other D.C. players throughout the evening.
United's Ryan Nelsen, top, and Bryan Namoff converge on the Crew's Edson Buddle.
It started when Nelsen received a yellow card in the 20th minute for arguing a foul called on teammate Bryan Namoff.
"I told him it was the most embarrassing call I've ever seen, and he gives me a yellow card without even flinching," said Nelsen, who will have to sit out next weekend's match at New York/New Jersey. "A referee has got to have thick skin."
Then in the 40th minute, Marrufo slapped Nelsen with a second yellow after a hard tackle on Edson Buddle along the sideline. After the second card, "I used some bad language, I told him what I thought of him because he was ruining the game," Nelsen said.
Other United players accused Marrufo of directing profane language toward them on several occasions. Marrufo was not available to comment afterward.
"I don't know if he has something personal against me, but I have something personal against him now," said forward Alecko Eskandarian, whose yellow card in the 82nd minute will result in a one-game suspension for an accumulation of penalty points. "His résumé speaks for itself."
Last year Marrufo was removed from the MLS referee rotation by the U.S. Soccer Federation, which oversees officiating in pro leagues, for a series of controversial decisions, including one that greatly benefited United during a victory at Dallas.
"In our league, there's something wrong because it's getting worse right now," Coach Peter Nowak said. "I know what the referee said to [Nelsen], I know what the referee said to the players and this kind of stuff isn't acceptable in professional soccer."
As for the match, Tony Sanneh scored on a 10th-minute header as the Crew (11-5-10) extended its unbeaten streak to 14 games, one short of the MLS record set by Los Angeles six years ago. United (8-10-9) dropped to 1-8-5 on the road.
United got off to a composed start before the announced sellout of 23,775. But in the 10th minute, Crew midfielder Simon Elliott swung in a free kick from near the sideline. The 6-foot-2 Sanneh made a near-post run and drilled a six-yard header that goalkeeper Nick Rimando slapped but couldn't prevent from dropping into the left corner of net.
For Sanneh, a United standout from 1996 to '98 before embarking on a German league career, it was his second goal in four appearances since rejoining MLS a month ago.
Things got bad for United in the 22nd minute when Moreno, who had contributed six assists in the previous two matches, hurt his hamstring and departed.
Goalkeeper Jon Busch kept the Crew's lead intact with a pair of outstanding saves, including a breathtaking left-handed slap of Eskandarian's volley from the top of the box.