United's President Decries Effort as Team Falls to 2-5

D.C. United's Franco Niell tries to split the Fire's Diego Gutierrez, left, and Logan Pause. A Chicago goal late in the first half deflated United, which was depleted by injuries.
D.C. United's Franco Niell tries to split the Fire's Diego Gutierrez, left, and Logan Pause. A Chicago goal late in the first half deflated United, which was depleted by injuries. (Jonathan Newton - The Washington Post)
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By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 9, 2008

D.C. United President Kevin Payne is losing his patience with a team that continues to underachieve. Following last night's 2-0 loss to the Chicago Fire that was witnessed by the club's managing partners and new sponsors, Payne vented his frustration in an eerily quiet locker room at RFK Stadium.

"We have a personal accountability issue on the field," he said. "I hope that the players know; some of them probably don't, actually. There are certain players who play maybe 75 or 80 minutes out of 90, but they take off critical plays, and it happened tonight twice."

Those two sequences resulted in a goal by Justin Mapp late in the first half and another by Cuauhtémoc Blanco after the break, sending United (2-5) to its second shutout defeat in five days and leaving the club in last place in the MLS's Eastern Conference.

"We've got guys who think it is okay if you go out and put a good effort in for 30-35 minutes, the crowd cheers, everybody gets happy and then you fall asleep for a play and -- bang! -- you are down a goal," Payne said.

United exhibited more energy and intensity than in Sunday's dreary loss at Colorado, but the lack of understanding between players, critical mistakes and an inability to create scoring opportunities doomed the club before a crowd of 18,605. The Fire (5-1-1), which eliminated United from the playoffs two of the previous three years, won its third straight and overtook Columbus for first place.

United will play three of its next four games on the road, where it has lost all three league games and been outscored 8-0.

Despite the absence of injured midfielders Marcelo Gallardo (groin) and Fred (quadriceps), United built its attack reasonably well in the first half and pressed for an equalizer shortly after halftime. But all that possession did not translate into clear chances, and the only serious threat was Jaime Moreno's header off the crossbar in the 86th minute.

"In the final third [of the field], we lack creativity and that final punch," United Coach Tom Soehn said. "We have to make sure that killer instinct comes back."

Luciano Emilio, the reigning league MVP, was barely a factor again and striking partner Franco Niell provided little assistance. Without Gallardo, Moreno, a forward, had to drop into midfield and had only a mild influence on the match.

Rest assured, there was more from Payne. Addressing the winter overhaul of the roster following three consecutive playoff shortcomings, Payne said, "We made changes in the offseason because we were not happy and, if we have to, we will certainly make changes again."

Taking the initiative last night, United was efficient if not elegant, keeping possession, moving the ball quickly, utilizing the flanks and, out of character, driving several long bids at goalkeeper Jon Busch's net.

The Fire was not particularly threatening, but Blanco's menacing qualities kept United in a constant state of alert. By midway through the opening half, the pace had slowed to Chicago's liking. The Fire defense, which has conceded just three goals this season, closed down space in and around the penalty area as United's opportunities were fleeting.

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