By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 22, 2008
TORONTO, May 21 -- Another bumbling defensive act, another shooting misadventure and, inevitably, another loss.
D.C. United fell behind after just seven minutes on a ghastly error by the usually reliable Devon McTavish, butchered each and every opportunity to pull even and dropped a 1-0 result to Toronto FC on a cold, rainy Wednesday night for its fourth consecutive loss.
"It just seems it's going to be one of those years," team captain Jaime Moreno said. "We've got to fight against everything."
United (2-7) has not won on the road since last Sept. 1 at Dallas, a stretch of 12 matches in all competitions. The club is 0-5 with one goal scored in MLS away games this year.
With the losses mounting, confidence dipping and a difficult stretch against top opponents approaching, United almost certainly will have to beat Toronto on Saturday night at RFK Stadium in their third and final meeting this year to have any hope of resurrecting its season.
"When you are going through rough stretches, one mistake or two mistakes tend to cost you, and that was a bad mistake," United Coach Tom Soehn said of McTavish's folly that resulted in Danny Dichio's goal.
An announced crowd of 19,791 at BMO Field watched Toronto (4-2-2) extend its unbeaten streak to six and avenge a 4-1 loss to United last month in Washington.
Soehn was able to field his strongest lineup in weeks with the return of three starters -- McTavish, Gonzalo Peralta and Fred -- and also gave slumping striker Luciano Emilio his starting job back after using him as a reserve last weekend.
Before missing four games with a sprained foot, McTavish had played primarily on the right side of midfield, but on this night, Soehn inserted him into central defense, a position in which McTavish excelled last year.
However, it does not seem to matter who is on the field these days because devastating mistakes continue to afflict the club.
On the goal sequence, McTavish attempted to touch the ball back to goalkeeper Zach Wells but struck it so meekly, he had to scramble to prevent Dichio from reaching it first. The odds were against McTavish: At 6 feet 3, 209 pounds and with a shaved head, Dichio is one of the most imposing players in the league.
McTavish, conceding three inches and 39 pounds, tried to wrestle him away from the ball, but as Dichio was falling, the Toronto forward swept the ball past Wells and watched it roll gently and unobstructed into the far corner for his second goal of the year. If the ball had not reached the target, referee Alex Prus might have been justified in awarding a penalty kick.
"Whatever happened when I tried to kick it, I just lost my footing," McTavish said. "He got a step on me and it was pretty much over from there."
McTavish suffered another embarrassing moment midway through the opening half when, after chasing a clearance 40 yards to midfield, he stumbled on the wet artificial turf and crashed onto his chest, triggering a derisive roar from the crowd.
"I think I tripped over the white line," he said. "It was one of those days. My feet weren't up to par with my head."
Despite the weather and the slick surface, United attacked fluidly at times, kept its shape and made good use of the flanks. But the club continued to labor in the final third of the field and managed only two quality scoring chances in the first half: Emilio's shot over the crossbar after beating goalie Greg Sutton to the ball and Marcelo Gallardo's 30-yard drive that took a slight deflection and streaked narrowly past the top right corner.
United probably should have pulled even 30 seconds into the second half, but after being set up nicely by Moreno, Fred ballooned a clear 18-yarder well out of play.
The Brazilian had a much easier opportunity in the 64th minute when Gallardo delivered an outstanding cross to the edge of the six-yard box. Unmarked and staring at wide openings on either side of Sutton, who was stranded on the goal line, Fred headed it directly at the keeper. Sutton made a sprawling block before Dichio cleared the ball from danger.
"The keeper had a very quick reaction to it," Fred, who missed the previous three games with quadriceps and hamstring injuries, said through an interpreter. "I am sad about the outcome because it could have changed the game."
Soehn removed Fred and inserted Marc Burch to provide better service from the wing. But time was running out on United, and the addition of Domenic Mediate and Francis Doe in the final eight minutes didn't improve the club's situation.
Toronto held its ground and counterattacked in an attempt to put the game out of reach, but against a fading United team, one goal was enough.
Attempting to accentuate the positive in an otherwise dreary spring, Wells said: "The goals and the wins will come. When we were short a few guys, maybe the effort and execution weren't there. Now the effort is there and we are playing more consistent."