United Suffers Blow To Playoff Hopes With Painful Loss to Earthquakes

By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 28, 2009

The booing echoed around RFK Stadium late Sunday afternoon, a rare declaration of disgust directed at D.C. United on its home grounds.

The 2-1 loss to the San Jose Earthquakes was a devastating setback to United's MLS playoff efforts, but what made the result unbearably infuriating to many of the 14,375 spectators was the fact that it came against a last-place club that hadn't won on the road since June 2008.

"We certainly didn't deserve cheering," midfielder Ben Olsen said.

The calamitous outcome unfolded after United had gone ahead on Jaime Moreno's goal and controlled so much possession that "it seemed like they didn't touch the ball in the first half," midfielder Santino Quaranta said.

But the match began to slip away just before intermission and unraveled in an unsightly second half, leaving United (8-7-12) in need of victories in probably all of its three remaining regular season matches. D.C. squandered an opportunity to pull within two points of second-place Chicago in the Eastern Conference -- the top two teams in each division earn automatic postseason berths -- and remained a point behind New England for the final wild-card spot.

As if the loss wasn't painful enough, starting goalkeeper Josh Wicks departed with a dislocated shoulder and midfielder Rodney Wallace exceeded the yellow-card limit, resulting in a one-game suspension. Wicks, who has started 17 consecutive league games, will have an MRI exam on Monday to determine the severity of the injury.

"It's thoroughly disappointing," United Coach Tom Soehn said. "We've put ourselves in a bad spot. We've let ourselves down and we've got to find our way out of it."

Ramon Sanchez's exquisite free kick in the 58th minute and Ryan Johnson's diving header 15 minutes later overturned United's lead and ended the Earthquakes' 20-game winless streak on the road. United has lost two straight in league play at RFK after earning six victories and five ties.

Emboldened by a 3-0 triumph over Marathon of Honduras in the CONCACAF Champions League on Thursday, United seemed poised to make quick work of the Earthquakes (6-12-7). United dictated play at its leisure, and in the 26th minute, went ahead.

Olsen waited for Chris Pontius's overlapping run and led him with a pass in stride. Pontius crossed to Moreno, who touched the ball into space and drove a low, left-footed shot from 10 yards past Andrew Weber. Weber, a former D.C. prospect, was making his league debut.

Wicks made a superb diving save on Simon Elliott's low shot, but otherwise United's one-touch passing and rhythm ruled the half.

United began to lose its way, though, and was fortunate that Johnson's headed goal was disallowed by a questionable offside call. With the addition of midfielder Arturo Alvarez, San Jose continued its resurgence after the break.

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