By Jorge Castillo
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 16, 2010; D03
Sitting five points behind fourth-place Chicago with 15 games remaining entering Thursday night's match against the Seattle Sounders, D.C. United knew time was running out in its pursuit of a playoff spot after a nightmarish start to the season.
Thursday night's result may have dug a hole United can't get out of -- and again the team's inability to finish did the digging.
In its first league match at RFK Stadium since June 5, United dominated play but couldn't capitalize on any of its numerous opportunities. Instead, the hosts surrendered a heartbreaking goal to forward Roger Levesque in the 89th minute and fell to the Sounders, 1-0, in front of an announced crowd of 13,716. United has scored one goal in its past four league matches.
After registering just one shot in Saturday's scoreless draw against New York, United (3-10-3) came out aggressive. Energized by midfielder Andy Najar and forward Jaime Moreno, who made his first start in league play since May 22, D.C. had four shots in the first half, while the Sounders (5-8-4) countered with seven of their own.
After the seesaw first half, the hosts dominated play and produced a number of chances in the second but still couldn't finish.
In the 65th minute, United had its best scoring chance when Kasey Keller, the Sounders' veteran goalkeeper, came out of the box to clear a ball Najar was pursuing. Najar managed to slide and deflect the ball away from Keller, who stayed on the ground in pain after the collision. Najar passed to midfielder Santino Quaranta, who tried chipping the ball from the edge of the box over two Sounders defenders protecting the goal in Keller's absence. The shot wasn't high enough, however, and a Sounders defender headed it out of bounds for a corner kick.
In the 76th minute, luck again wasn't on Quaranta's side when struck a shot from 30 yards out that Keller just deflected over the crossbar for a corner.
"I can't explain it," a dejected Quaranta said of his struggles offensively. "I was talking to my wife today and I thought I was one goal away from getting 10. It's hard to explain. If Kasey doesn't make that save . . . he might make [the save] two out of 10 [times]. He did it when it counts."
Down the stretch the Sounders scored when it counted, too. In the 89th minute, Sounders forward Fredy Montero dribbled down the right side into the box before crossing to Levesque on the other side of the box. Levesque's diving header managed to get past United goalkeeper Troy Perkins along the post before he could get over to defend it.
United's only opportunity to tie it came on a free kick in the 91st minute. Quaranta took the free kick, a grounder that was well off target.
Pablo Hernandez, who is on loan from Uruguay's Club Defensor, provided a spark in his MLS debut when he was inserted for Moreno in the 56th minute. In the 67th minute he nearly opened the scoring, heading a corner at Keller, who managed to block the shot. Four minutes later he was pulled down as he tried to handle a cross in the box but the officials didn't whistle for a foul.
In the 86th minute he redirected a cross with his left foot that forced Keller to dive for the save.
"This defeat leaves a bitter taste in our mouths," the Argentine said in Spanish. "We got to take out the good and improve what we did wrong. From my point of view, I think we played really well for some moments and just had bad luck at the end."
Newcomer Branko Boskovic also made his MLS debut when he replaced Stephen King in the midfield in the 72nd minute.
United will have just two days to regroup before the league's best team comes to town. D.C. hosts Landon Donovan and the Los Angeles Galaxy on Sunday at 7:30 p.m.
"We need three points" on Sunday, King said. "On a personal level, I'm happy we got a game so quickly because you don't sit here thinking about this last game the whole week."