United Left With Blank Look

United, in need of a win Saturday to stay in the MLS playoff hunt, look to get a lift from Santino Quaranta, right, instead they are shutout.
United, in need of a win Saturday to stay in the MLS playoff hunt, look to get a lift from Santino Quaranta, right, instead they are shutout. (By Jonathan Newton -- The Washington Post)
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By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 5, 2008

A season that began with soaring expectations for D.C. United struck another low point last night. The 3-0 loss to Chivas USA before 28,145 at RFK Stadium left the club on the brink of missing the MLS playoffs for the first time in six years and perhaps increased the likelihood of Coach Tom Soehn's dismissal this winter.

Though United (10-14-3) is not mathematically eliminated from postseason contention, its prospects are grim. The club has lost three in a row, is winless in six and probably must win the final three, all against playoff-bound teams. Even that might not be enough.

"We somehow found a way to make a tough season even more difficult," said Soehn, whose club has conceded 11 goals the past three games. "At no point are we hanging our heads and saying it can't be done because it can be done."

United was a non-factor on the attack until it was too late, and Argentine playmaker Marcelo Gallardo's return from injury was barely noticed after the first 20 minutes. Gallardo, the team's highest-paid player who has been sidelined most of the last three months with injuries, departed in the 71st minute with a sprained knee ligament and might not play again this year. He will have an MRI exam today.

"Overall, I thought we played a very good first half," Gallardo said through an interpreter, "but after the first goal, our morale went down."

Gallardo's rustiness was among scores of problems, most notably a colossal error by goalkeeper Louis Crayton that led to former United star Alecko Eskandarian's goal in the 35th minute. Chivas USA (11-10-6) struck twice in 12 minutes of the second half to secure its fifth win in six games and first in four all-time visits to Washington.

United is 1-7-2 in all competitions since Aug. 30, the only victory coming against a second-division team in the U.S. Open Cup final.

Gallardo's return and the absence of forwards Luciano Emilio (hamstring) and Jaime Moreno (red card suspension) prompted changes to United's lineup and formation. The club lacked synchronization and labored to sustain a consistent presence within 35 yards until the outcome had been decided.

"Every time they went down the field there was a problem, and that's not good," forward Santino Quaranta said.

"Sometimes I didn't know where to go in some situations."

Late in the half, with the match losing its rhythm and Gallardo's influence fading, disaster struck for United.

Gonzalo Peralta sent the ball back to Crayton, who was put under pressure by Dejair. Crayton usually is very good with his feet, but this time he pushed the ball haphazardly in the direction of Dejair, a Brazilian making his MLS debut. He seized possession just outside the penalty area, and with the keeper in despair, passed to Eskandarian for a 25-yard shot into an open net.

"I wanted to lift the ball and hit it. Unfortunately, I hit it right onto his foot," Crayton said. "Today is the worst day of my football career."

United was no threat the remainder of the half -- Gallardo's terrible pass ended one promising counterattack -- and found itself repelling repeated forays. For the second consecutive league game, United had no shots on goal before halftime.

After Fred departed with a strained hamstring, Chivas doubled the advantage in the 56th minute. Crayton made a diving save on Eskandarian's angled bid and left the rebound for Sasha Victorine to slam into the left corner.

United reserve Francis Doe had two golden chances, missing on a near-post header and shooting meekly on a partial breakaway. Dejair then sealed the outcome in the 68th minute, sliding in the six-yard box to guide in Eskandarian's cross that Peralta had failed to impede.

"It's a pretty devastating loss, but we have a few games left and we still have a chance," midfielder Joe Vide said. "It's not over."

United Notes: With a crucial league game next Sunday at Western Conference-leading Houston, United will send a team made up mostly of reserves to Costa Rica for the Champions League group match against Saprissa on Thursday. United (0-3) has almost no chance of advancing to the quarterfinals of the regional championship. . . . Last night's attendance was the second largest of the year, behind the 35,979 for David Beckham's visit with Los Angeles. . . . Emilio missed a regular season game for just the second time this year.

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