By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 2, 2010; D02
It began with so much promise: crisp ball movement and tidy combinations, a fizzy pace and threatening shots from near and far. Surely, after four consecutive losses to open the MLS calendar, D.C. United had discovered the answers to its many riddles.
But after dictating the pace and creating several opportunities Saturday, United broke down defensively -- a weekly occurrence -- and yielded two goals early in the second half to drop a 2-0 decision to the New York Red Bulls before 12,089 at RFK Stadium.
Salou Ibrahim and Juan Pablo Ángel scored nine minutes apart for the Red Bulls (5-1), who ended a 10-game winless streak in Washington. United is off to the worst start in club history and the third poorest in MLS's 15 seasons, trailing the Kansas City Wizards (0-7) in 1999 and the New England Revolution (0-6) in 2001.
"There aren't a whole lot of positives to take," United Coach Curt Onalfo said. "We are 0-5. We just lost in front of our home crowd again. It's unacceptable."
D.C. has scored just twice in league play -- both in the same game, both as the result of mistakes by the opponent -- and been shut out in all three home matches. Onalfo has changed formations, shuffled the lineup and emphasized better use of the flanks. Nothing has worked.
In a hapless second half against the first-place Red Bulls, United failed to maintain cohesion and permitted two gut-wrenching goals.
"We shut off for 15 minutes again," said goalkeeper Troy Perkins, who faced only three shots on goal and continued his disappointing spring.
Even with midfielder Clyde Simms and defender Juan Manuel Peña back from hamstring injuries and 2007 league MVP Luciano Emilio available after re-signing this past week, United lost its way.
"We moved the ball well, made some good runs from behind, we were intelligent with our passing," Onalfo said. "It just has to translate into goals."
Adam Cristman, a two-goal scorer during Wednesday's 4-2 U.S. Open Cup victory over FC Dallas, stabbed a 16-yarder past the far post and turned at the top of the box for a near-post bid.
Ángel narrowly missed the right corner before Simms, an uncommon scoring threat, made an assertive run to meet Kurt Morsink's well-weighted pass inside the penalty area and tested goalkeeper Bouna Coundoul.
The oppressive conditions seemed to take a heavier toll on United, sapping the energy that had spurred the lively start. Simms maintained his attacking prowess after the break, ripping a 25-yard volley that a soaring Coundoul touched away.
The Red Bulls, prone to giveaways in the first half, went ahead in the 51st minute. Ángel slotted a pass to quick-paced right wing Dane Richards, who dodged Rodney Wallace and crossed to the near post. Ibrahim beat Peña, and before the scrambling Perkins could cover the deflected ball, the 6-foot-4 Ghanaian side-footed it into a vacant net.
United's response was tepid, and in the 60th minute, D.C. fell asleep on a largely innocent free kick by Joel Lindpere from 35 yards. Ángel found space between two defenders, and when the ball sailed over Peña, he directed a 14-yard header toward the lower left corner. Perkins was rooted on the goal line and didn't react.
Onalfo turned to Emilio in the 66th minute, pulling off a defender (Peña) in the process and exposing his club to further counterattacks. He had little choice, though, for another match had slipped away.
United barely threatened in the closing moments.
"We don't finish our chances, we let up two soft goals and we lose a game," Morsink said. "It has happened too many times."
United notes: The club has finalized plans for a charity match against El Salvador's national team at RFK. The likely date is June 19 when MLS suspends league play during the first round of the World Cup. . . .
Midfielder Stephen King, a former Maryland Terrapin who was acquired from Seattle on Friday, made his debut in the 75th minute.
-- FREEDOM 3, ATHLETICA 1: In the second game of a doubleheader, Homare Sawa's leaping volley early in the second half broke a tie and lifted Washington (2-2) over St. Louis (1-1-2) in front of a few thousand spectators. It was the only RFK appearance of the WPS season for the Freedom, which is based at Maryland SoccerPlex in Montgomery County.
Sonia Bompastor scored on a 15-yard one-timer in the 19th minute and Athletica's Eniola Aluko tied it in the 45th. Less than a minute after halftime, Sawa neatly smacked Bompastor's corner kick from eight yards.
Lene Mykjaland added Washington's third goal in the 73rd minute, catching goalkeeper Hope Solo woefully out of position and converting from 25 yards.Bayern Munich on verge
Thomas Mueller scored all three goals to put Bayern Munich on the verge of its 22nd Bundesliga title with a 3-1 win over Bochum. Schalke lost 2-0 at home to Werder Bremen, leaving Bayern three points clear entering the final round.
Bayern is in the final of the Champions League and the German Cup and can achieve a treble in Coach Louis van Gaal's first season. Back in November, Van Gaal's future at Bayern appeared in jeopardy after a shaky start. . . .
Tottenham edged Bolton, 1-0, and Manchester City beat Aston Villa, 3-1, to stay in a tight race for a Champions League spot, while Villa slipped from contention and has to settle for a Europa League berth. Tom Huddlestone scored Tottenham's winner, while City came from behind with goals from Carlos Tévez, Emmanuel Adebayor and Craig Bellamy to beat Villa.
The results mean that fourth-place Tottenham has 67 points and Manchester City has 66 with two rounds left. . . .
Already sure of its second straight Scottish Premier League title, Rangers stayed 11 points clear of Celtic with a 2-1 victory at third-place Dundee United.
Kris Boyd scored his 100th Premier League goal to put Rangers ahead at Tannadice Park, and Nacho Novo added another just before halftime as Rangers captured its 26th win of the season.
-- From news services