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Road-Weary D.C. United Drops Another

Crew 1, United 0

By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, April 16, 2005; Page D04

COLUMBUS, Ohio, April 15 -- Considering all it had been through in the past 48 hours -- a grueling journey to Mexico City, a humbling loss in an international tournament, a long trip to get here in time for Friday night's MLS match -- D.C. United took plenty of comfort from the way it played during its 1-0 loss to the Columbus Crew.

Other than Edson Buddle's 26th-minute goal, United absorbed persistent pressure before shifting the game in its favor during a dominant final 20 minutes. If not for Crew goalkeeper Jon Busch's two late saves and United's faulty finishing touch, D.C. might've ended its trying week with a rare tie or victory on the road.

The Crew's Robin Fraser, left, and Danny Szetela try to chase down Freddy Adu, who made his first start of the season. A sluggish D.C. United was playing its second game in 48 hours. (Chris Putman -- AP)

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Instead, it watched its league record slip to 1-1-1 and its overall winless streak stretch to four games (two losses and two ties).

"Overall, the better team lost today," said United Coach Peter Nowak, who was ejected in the 85th minute for shouting at referee Ricardo Salazar. "We're disappointed. . . . but I'm really proud of this team. They showed character, they showed how to respond. We feel like we're very comfortable with our roster and the [reserves] showed tonight they have great potential."

Nowak made six changes to his starting lineup -- moves necessitated by fatigue caused by United's busy early-season schedule that had the club playing five games in two weeks, including trips to California and Mexico, and three matches in the last seven days.

Despite eight starters having three years or less of pro experience Friday, United kept pace with the well-rested Crew (2-1). And when mainstays Jaime Moreno, Alecko Eskandarian and Christian Gomez entered in the second half, the game took a dramatic turn.

Busch, who always seems to give United fits with his acrobatic saves, prevented an own goal with a leaping stop in the 70th minute and watched Moreno's chip sail over his head, but narrowly wide of the far post as Freddy Adu arrived an instant too late to finish it off. Gomez sent a 17-yarder just past the upper right corner in the 81st, and Busch thwarted Moreno with a diving gem during injury time.

"Definitely in the second half, we were on them," midfielder Josh Gros said. "We had a lot of opportunities and it seemed like Jon Busch was saving everything. We couldn't get anything by him."

Busch was only bothered twice in the first half -- Santino Quaranta's hard drive and Jamil Walker's header, set up by Adu's superb cross, that went directly at him. Adu, in his first league start of the year, was given Gomez's playmaking role and responded with an energized performance.

"We just wanted to get a result today, but we were unlucky," Adu said. "That's the story to our season so far: We just can't buy a goal. Once we start finishing our chances, we would just blow teams away."

Buddle scored off Simon Elliott's free kick from the left corner, muscling aside defender David Stokes and sweeping a three-yard shot past goalkeeper Troy Perkins.

Nowak was furious with Salazar, particularly with the foul call that led to Buddle's goal and a late whistle against Gros in midfield that resulted in the coach's ejection.

"Everyone around the league knows that [Columbus's] Kyle Martino and Frankie Hejduk are going to dive. We saw examples of this last year," Nowak said. "The referee is supposed to read the game. My team is too honest to go this way. It's not my business, but I'm really going to keep an eye on what kind of calls Columbus is going to get the next couple of weeks."

United Notes: Former captain John Harkes has been elected to the National Soccer Hall of Fame, club sources confirmed. A formal announcement will be made Tuesday. . . . Defenders Bryan Namoff (back sprain) and Brandon Prideaux (pulled hamstring) remain sidelined, but the club hopes to have them for next Saturday's game vs. New England at RFK Stadium. . . . Columbus rookie midfielder Domenic Mediate (Maryland) entered in the second half. . . . Wednesday's 5-0 loss to Pumas in Mexico City equaled the worst defeat in United's 10-year history, matching a 6-1 decision at Kansas City in June 1997.

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