United Continues Puzzling Early-Season Struggles

Former D.C. defenseman Facundo Erpen beats United goalie Zach Wells in the 72nd minute. United is 0-7-2 at Colorado since 2000 with just five goals scored.
Former D.C. defenseman Facundo Erpen beats United goalie Zach Wells in the 72nd minute. United is 0-7-2 at Colorado since 2000 with just five goals scored. (By Jack Dempsey -- Associated Press)

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By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, May 5, 2008

COMMERCE CITY, Colo., May 4 -- In the end, D.C. United's margin of defeat Sunday was not outright embarrassing, a 2-0 loss to the Colorado Rapids that extended two grim road streaks and kept one of MLS's preseason favorites at the bottom of the Eastern Conference.

The manner in which it transpired, however, should certainly concern United's front office, which thought it had constructed a championship-caliber team and instead has watched the club lose four of six league matches against mostly middling opponents.

Unimaginative and uninspiring, United rarely challenged the Rapids (3-3) and was bedeviled by two former teammates before an announced crowd of 13,115 at Dick's Sporting Goods Park. Midfielder Christian Gómez, traded to Colorado after four classy seasons in Washington, was the most influential player on the field and assisted on Jacob Peterson's goal in the 51st minute. Defender Facundo Erpen, traded by United last summer, added the second goal in the 72nd.

If not for Colorado's faulty finishing early and late, the outcome would have been gruesome.

"We were just bad all over the field," United Coach Tom Soehn said. "I can't even pick one guy who did well. You could talk about tactics [and] formations all you want, but if you don't show up, you are not going to do well -- period."

United has been shut out in four straight road games (in both MLS and international competition) and is winless in its past 10 away matches (0-6-4), dating from last September. United also is 0-7-2 at Colorado since 2000 with just five goals scored.

"I don't know what is going on," said team captain Jaime Moreno, whose team will host second-place Chicago (4-1-1) on Thursday. "We are making too many mistakes and we've got to eliminate them, because if we don't, we could be in really big trouble."

The Rapids had enough opportunities to put away the match away, but Omar Cummings's diving header at the six-yard box missed the near post, Tom McManus's clear header at the back post was off target and Peterson's run, set up wonderfully by Gómez, was disrupted at the last instant by Marc Burch.

Meantime United's attack, under the leadership of Gómez's replacement, Marcelo Gallardo, displayed no chemistry, lacked initiative, made poor decisions in possession and offered little service from the flanks. Luciano Emilio, the reigning league MVP who has not scored in a month, tried to get himself involved, but received spotty service.

His presence barely felt the first 25 minutes, Gallardo provided United's first threat with clever footwork along the sideline. He got the ball to Burch, who served an excellent cross to the middle of the penalty area. Franco Niell, generously listed at 5 foot 4, was a few inches short of connecting with a header.

The pace was slow and deliberate, the spectators in the half-full, 18,000-seat stadium quiet and largely unresponsive on a gorgeous spring day in this industrial suburb north of Denver. The silence was broken only by the occasional rumble of applause in appreciation of a speculative pass and the groan of plastic horns.

Just before the break, Cummings touched the ball past charging Zach Wells at the box but could not regain control until the end line. Later, Gallardo clutched the back of his head, the result of a collision at midfield and symbolic of United's mind-numbing demonstration.


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