D.C. United is shut out by Kansas City in season opener

By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 28, 2010

KANSAS CITY, KAN. -- It was a night for a new coach to make his D.C. United debut against his former employer, for a 17-year-old midfielder to make the jump from high school to a professional starting lineup and for a refurbished roster to begin the quest of restoring respectability after two turbulent years.

But after 90 numbing minutes, it was a night that United would have liked to forget altogether.

The Kansas City Wizards, who, like United, rebuilt themselves over the winter, strolled to a 4-0 MLS victory on Saturday night before an announced sellout of 10,385 at CommunityAmerica Ballpark.

"It was an eye-opener for us," goalkeeper Troy Perkins said. "We went through preseason, we won games, we played well, but coming into the season, it's a different story. It's a good lesson to learn early."

United created two quality chances in the first 15 minutes but was otherwise outclassed. Defensive breakdowns plagued United throughout the cool, windy evening and the reconfigured attack was missing in action. As the match reached the late stages, United had more than twice as many yellow cards (five) as shots (two).

Curt Onalfo, making his debut as D.C.'s coach after being dismissed by the Wizards last summer, had no answers for Englishman Ryan Smith, who bedeviled United with his poised distribution and menacing qualities.

"For whatever reason, we stepped on the field thinking we were just going to win the game and didn't realize that we actually had to earn it on the field," Onalfo said. "It's a disappointing performance. We made a lot of youthful errors."

Onalfo made a bold decision by starting Andy Najar, a midfielder from the club's youth academy who dropped out of Edison High School in Alexandria to sign last week. He became the eighth-youngest player to start an MLS match. Although he didn't seem out of place and nearly scored a sensational goal, Najar was replaced at halftime with United trailing by two goals.

Najar's inclusion wasn't the only surprise. With four defenders unavailable, Onalfo stuck defensive midfielder Clyde Simms at right back.

United's problems deepened in the 31st minute when Simms, who had just returned from knee surgery, strained a hamstring. He will have an MRI exam upon the team's return home.

United could have gone ahead less than three minutes into the match when Chris Pontius took the ball from defender Matt Besler and crossed to Jaime Moreno for a clear shot at the top of the box. Goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen punched it away nicely.

Perkins made a superb foot save on Smith, but in the ninth minute, with Najar drawn out of position, Jack Jewsbury crossed to the unmarked Smith, who was again thwarted by Perkins. This time, Kei Kamara was waiting to tuck in the rebound without resistance.

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