United Has No Defense At Home

Ugo Ihemelu, Domenic Mediate
Ugo Ihemelu, left, of the Los Angeles Galaxy tackles United's Domenic Mediate. (Nick Wass - Associated Press)
By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 27, 2006

Although D.C. United had been stumbling through its MLS schedule for about six weeks, Coach Peter Nowak had no reason for panic or drastic change. Even on the worst nights, when injuries weakened the lineup and fatigue slowed the club's usual upbeat pace, United was mostly settling for ties and maintaining its enormous lead in the Eastern Conference standings.

Last night, however, United's late-summer slumber reached alarming depths and raised questions about whether this once-faultless team had peaked too soon during the long regular season.

The Los Angeles Galaxy, a last-place team averaging less than a goal per game, scored four minutes into the match, went ahead for good two minutes into the second half and raced to a 5-2 rout over United before a season-high 24,159 at RFK Stadium.

"I'm really glad this happened to us right now," United Coach Peter Nowak said. "It's a good cold shower for all of us."

United (13-3-8) has performed well in its international exhibitions and in the U.S. Open Cup tournament, but its winless streak in MLS has reached five (0-2-3). Last night's stunner was its first regular season loss at home since last October and the first time it has permitted five goals since a lopsided defeat to Mexican club Pumas in April 2005.

"It's embarrassing," midfielder Josh Gros said. "Giving up five goals is unacceptable."

Already beset with nagging injuries, United absorbed another blow when reserve midfielder Domenic Mediate suffered a broken right fibula on a tackle by Galaxy defender Ugo Ihemelu. He will have surgery today.

It came near the end of a dreadful evening for United, which has allowed the fewest goals in the league and had not been scored upon more than twice in any match this season.

Galaxy star Landon Donovan did most of the damage, scoring two goals, playing a part in another and shredding United's defense with blazing runs and delicate passes.

Despite its losing record, Los Angeles (8-11-5) arrived here with only one loss in its previous nine outings and a history of success in Washington. United, meantime, was playing its fourth game in 11 days and had to start the match without two of its most creative forces, Christian Gomez and Freddy Adu, both recovering from knee ailments.

It didn't take long for United to realize it might be in for a long night. The game began at a blistering pace, with the Galaxy threatening twice before taking the lead.

Donovan found Cobi Jones in stride and after Troy Perkins made a diving save, Alan Gordon pushed in the rebound for his first career goal.

"The first five minutes, they had like three chances," United forward Alecko Eskandarian said. "We can't let that happen. That just sets the tone."

United pulled even in the ninth minute when Galaxy defender Troy Roberts closed in on Jaime Moreno and slammed a clearing attempt off teammate Chris Albright and watched it skid into the corner for an own goal.

Nowak inserted Gomez at halftime, but as Los Angeles did at the start of the match, the visitors struck quickly.

After Donovan's free kick from 25 yards crashed into the defensive wall, Peter Vagenas swung the rebound to Albright just outside the box for a low bid that nicked a United player and slithered into the far corner.

The Galaxy expanded the lead to 3-1 midway through the half when Donovan launched reserve Quavas Kirk for a clean run at Perkins. Kirk tried to get around the keeper and was spilled, drawing a penalty kick. Perkins got a hand on Donovan's attempt, but it was struck with too much power.

United drew back within a goal in the 69th minute when Facundo Erpen flicked Gomez's 30-yard free kick, but the Galaxy answered two minutes later when Kirk crossed into the six-yard box for Donovan, who was running with D.C. defender Bryan Namoff. Donovan made contact, but it was Namoff who propelled it into the net for another own goal.

After Mediate's injury left United shorthanded for the final 10-plus minutes, Donovan steered around Perkins during stoppage time to complete the rout.

"We're going to get back to reality," Nowak said. "If you don't run, if you don't scratch, if you don't fight and defensively if you don't give your 'A' game, then you're going to have trouble, especially right now going into a period when every game is important."

© 2006 The Washington Post Company