United Has Little Offense or Defense In Home Opener

Michael Harrington
Wizard midfielder Michael Harrington gets in a tussle with United's Fred for the ball. (Toni L. Sandys - The Washington Post)
By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 15, 2007

After two disappointing postseason experiences, D.C. United decided this past winter to revamp its attack and ignore its defensive needs.

Through two matches, that approach is looking like a terrible mistake.

The Kansas City Wizards tore apart United's defense for three first-half goals, including a pair in the first eight minutes, and claimed a 4-2 victory last night before 22,358 at rainy RFK Stadium, spoiling D.C.'s home opener and sending MLS's preseason favorite to its second consecutive loss.

"We are, right now, not as good as we thought we were and it's going to take a lot of looking at the film and each other and figuring it out," midfielder Ben Olsen said.

United did recover to draw even late in the first half, but continued to allow the Wizards (1-0) unchallenged opportunities. Eddie Johnson had a goal and two assists, but that told only part of the story. With space to operate between D.C.'s slow-paced midfield and slow-reacting back line, Johnson used sleek runs and clever footwork to create numerous chances for himself and his teammates.

When it wasn't scrambling to stop Kansas City's relentless assault, United labored to mount a formidable attack. Luciano Emilio and Christian Gomez scored in the first half, but Johnson snapped the tie before intermission and created Scott Sealy's clincher in the 54th minute to leave D.C. with an 0-2 record for the first time in seven years.

"You set yourselves up to get back in the game and then we let two more goals in," Coach Tom Soehn said. "You let four goals in, you've got no chance. . . . We've forgotten what it takes to win games."

Said Gomez: "I'm worried, obviously. We have to fix some things."

For the second consecutive week, D.C. found itself with another early two-goal deficit.

In the third minute, Johnson sent a long ball down the left side to rookie Michael Harrington, who beat Facundo Erpen, bore down on goalkeeper Troy Perkins and waited until he was comfortable with the angle before slotting an eight-yarder to the far corner.

Five minutes later, United faltered again. This time, Josh Gros slipped on the treacherous turf, allowing Sealy to run free. Johnson made a run to the center of the box, accepted Sealy's cross and slid the ball to the uninhibited Sasha Victorine for a rising shot between Perkins and the near post.

"I think I let the guys down," Perkins said. "I should have made one save at the beginning. That would've changed the whole game."

United struck back in the 11th minute. Erpen sent a long ball behind the Kansas City defense to Emilio, and while the Wizards pleaded for an offside call, Emilio finished to the lower right corner for his sixth goal in six overall appearances since joining the club in January.

With its possession game faltering, United turned to Gomez to level the score on a booming, 30-yard free kick that had too much pace and movement for goalkeeper Kevin Hartman to handle.

The momentum had swung to United, but after two additional threats, the Wizards reclaimed the lead. A deflected ball fell to Johnson, who waltzed in alone and slid a shot under the diving Perkins.

Soehn yanked Erpen at the half and inserted Brazilian midfielder Fred, but Johnson, a 23-year-old World Cup forward whose star had faded the last two years, embarked on several more bold runs into the heart of United's crumbling defense. Perkins denied him in the 54th minute with a superb arm save, but Sealy one-timed the rebound into a mostly vacant net for a 4-2 lead.

United's play turned desperate, and when the final whistle sounded, triggering a chorus of boos, the club headed into the bye week wondering why things had gone so terribly wrong so quickly.

"All these people sit and watch us play in the rain and support us; I just feel embarrassed," Olsen said. "The important thing here is that we can't start throwing each other under the bus. It's important to stay together right now. We'll get out of this."

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