United's Ugly Beat Goes On

By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 18, 2008

CARSON, Calif., May 17 -- D.C. United's miserable start to the MLS season took another ghastly turn Saturday night, when the club conceded three goals in a late nine-minute span and suffered a 3-1 loss to a Chivas USA team that was missing nine injured players and did not threaten to score until midway through the second half.

It happened so suddenly and without any warning.

Ahead on Marcelo Gallardo's splendid first-half goal -- the club's first on the road since last October -- United appeared on its way to its first regular season road victory in 8 1/2 months.

But Jesse Marsch took advantage of goalkeeper Zach Wells's miscue for the equalizer in the 73rd minute, Sacha Kljestan broke the tie three minutes later and Jorge Flores finished inside the penalty area in the 82nd to snap a five-game winless streak for Chivas USA (2-4-2) before an announced crowd of 13,113 at Home Depot Center.

Last-place United (2-6) has lost three in a row and five of six. Chivas's victory was its first against United in seven tries and marked the home team's first comeback victory in its four-year existence.

United Coach Tom Soehn benched slumping Luciano Emilio, the league's reigning MVP and scoring champion, and was without injured midfielders Devon McTavish and Fred and defender Gonzalo Peralta. While McTavish and Fred were left behind, United held out hope that Peralta, who had started all previous seven matches, would join the club Saturday. But his pregnant wife remains on bed rest, and he stayed with her at their home in Northern Virginia. His availability for Wednesday's game at Toronto FC is uncertain.

With Peralta unavailable and injuries leaving him with few alternatives, Soehn called on midfielder Dominic Mediate to play in central defense alongside Gonzalo Martínez. Mediate had not made a league appearance since starting at left back at Real Salt Lake in the third week of the season.

The biggest surprise, however, was Ryan Cordeiro making his MLS debut by starting on the left side of midfield. Cordeiro, a former U-Conn. standout selected in the third round of the winter draft, had caught the coaching staff's eyes with his performances in the reserve division.

United's roster issues paled in comparison to Chivas USA's problems, which included the absence of six injured defenders -- Mexican legend Claudio Suárez, U.S. national team candidate Jonathan Bornstein, veterans Shavar Thomas, Lawson Vaughn and Alex Zotinca, and recently acquired Carey Talley. The club was also missing fleet-footed forward Maykel Galindo, midfielder Rafael Vicky and former United striker Alecko Eskandarian.

With few options, Chivas USA Coach Preki moved Marsch, in his 13th MLS season, from defensive midfield to central defense in a 3-4-3 formation and started three young players. The appearance moved Marsch, who started his career with United, into 10th place in games played (316) in U.S. pro soccer history, dating from 1921.

United received another injury scare in the fifth minute when Chivas forward Ante Razov slid into Wells on a through ball from Justin Braun that was ruled offside. Both players were down for a couple minutes, but remained in the match.

United connected with several quality passes in the opening minutes and exploited the flanks. The final touch was a bit off, but for a team that has lacked ingenuity on the road, it was an encouraging sign.

Neither side created much for a long stretch, which was fine with Chivas considering its personnel concerns.

The deadlock was broken, however, in the 30th minute, thanks to Gallardo's brilliance. Accepting a pass from Santino Quaranta, Gallardo faked Marsch into Orange County with clever footwork and change of direction before striking a 23-yard shot out of goalkeeper Brad Guzan's reach and into the upper left corner for his second spectacular goal of the year and third overall.

The last time United scored in an MLS regular season road match was last October at Kansas City, a stretch of 334 scoreless minutes.

Chivas had a nice spell of possession in pursuit of the equalizer, with Razov's apparent goal disallowed because of an offside call and a few threatening crosses into the penalty area. Jaime Moreno had a golden chance to double the lead for United, but sent a 21-yarder streaking over the crossbar.

Emilio entered in the 58th minute, replacing Francis Doe. The half was mostly uneventful until Francisco Mendoza tried to sneak an acute-angle shot inside the near post in the 68th, but Wells reached back to get a hand on it.

Five minutes later, however, with Martínez and Atiba Harris battling for position on Eric Ebert's pass into the box, Wells failed to control the ball and Marsch slid it into an open net.

Things only got worse. Harris beat Martínez on the right flank after a throw-in and crossed to the on-rushing Kljestan for a one-timer from 10 yards. Harris then set up Flores to apply the finishing touches on another inexplicable evening for United.

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