By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 21, 2008 2:42 AM
CARSON, Calif., Sept. 20 -- D.C. United roared its displeasure about the referee and linesmen, about the red card that extinguished its comeback hopes and about what it perceived as preferential treatment for David Beckham.
But upon further reflection following a 5-2 loss to the free-falling Los Angeles Galaxy on Saturday night, United looked at its own shortcomings and an inexcusable performance that further jeopardized its MLS playoff hopes.
There were the three goals conceded in a 15-minute stretch, the def ensive performance of preseason quality and the general disorganization. And there was the indignity of becoming the first team in more than three months to lose to the Galaxy.
MLS leading scorer Landon Donovan had three goals and an assist to help offset strikes by Devon McTavish and Thabiso Khumalo in front of 27,000 at Home Depot Center. In ending a 12-game winless streak, the Galaxy (7-10-8) revived its playoff chances and extended United's rut to four.
The result left United (10-12-3) clinging to the final postseason berth with five games left, one point ahead of Kansas City and four points or fewer in front of three other teams.
"We've got to get over it quick," McTavish said. "We have a lot of important games left and we are right there trying get into the playoffs. We can't dwell on this at all."
United was certainly willing to dwell on the officiating by referee Terry Vaughn and linesmen C.J. Morgante and Sean Hurd, who appeared to miss several offside calls. The most devastating decision was made by Vaughn, who ejected Marc Burch for a sideline challenge on Beckham, leaving resurgent United a man short for the final 27 minutes.
Burch certainly made contact, contributing to Beckham's tumble into a sign board, but it was hardly a malicious tackle. After the match, Beckham said he had told Vaughn at the time that the ejection was not warranted. "The momentum took me over the line and I lost my balance," he said.
"I swung for the ball and hit the back of his leg," said Burch, who must sit out Sunday's game at Dallas. "I guess that comes with bringing him to the league."
When Vaughn showed the red card, "the Galaxy [coaching] staff looked at me and had no answers; it's just a soft card. It was terrible," United C oach Tom Soehn said. "We all saw it: It was an absolute travesty."
So was United's display for the final 25 minutes of the first half, a stretch that turned a 1-0 lead into a 3-1 deficit. McTavish scored 71 seconds into the match, putting away Ivan Guerrero's corner kick, for his first career goal in 48 career regular season appearances. United continued to generate opportunities, but failed to stretch the lead.
Beckham then energized the Galaxy -- with a yellow card.
Khumalo knocked down the English veteran in midfield, but Vaughn ignored it. Beckham berated Vaughn as play continued and received the warning.
The rest of the half belonged to the Galaxy.
Chris Klein threaded an elegant through ball to Donovan, who sped through the heart of D.C.'s defense to take possession and close on the advancing Crayton before cleverly using the outside of his right foot to tie the match in the 23rd minute.
Eddie Lewis sent Beckham's cross off the far post, but the Galaxy continued to exploit the disheveled visitors. In the 35th, after Crayton did well to thwart Alan Gordon, Donovan was given too much time on the ball and ripped a 25-yarder into the left corner.
"We got careless," Soehn said. "I'm not sure if the early goal caused that, but we turned over the ball in some really bad spots."
Three minutes later, during a chaotic scene in the penalty area, Crayton failed to cover a dangerous pass. A poor clearance landed at the feet of Lewis, whose shot was blocked by the scrambling goalie. The rebound fell to Gordon, whose shot beat Crayton and two sliding defenders to the near corner.
There could have been more as a blown offside call gave Edson Buddle a breakaway, but Crayton made a terrific save and Buddle's second attempt skipped off the crossbar.
"We got caught in two mind-sets, trying to press them at times and no one was really on the same page," McTavish said. "Defenders got caught trying to sit back and some other players got caught trying to press. There are certain times to press and certain times to sit back, and in the situations where you are on the road and you are up 1-0, you just have to sit back and get 10 guys behind the ball and just defend."
The second half started as well as the first for United as Khumalo, in just his third appearance, took advantage of more sleepy defensive play, collected Gonzalo Martinez's long ball and easi ly freed himself to beat the wandering Wicks.
But as United pressed for an equalizer, Burch was sent off.
"The second half we were playing well and the ref turned it around and made it an impossible game for us to win," Burch said.
Reserve Peter Vagenas promptly sealed the outcome in the 81st minute, volleying Donovan's splendid cross from deep in the box, and Donovan completed the hat trick in the final moments with his 19th goal on what United thought was an offside situation.