Rapids 2, United 1
Three days after his club's most embarrassing performance of the season, D.C. United Coach Peter Nowak shook up the starting lineup Saturday night -- at least as much as an injury-riddled roster can be transformed.
The performance was better, but the result was the same, a 2-1 loss to the Colorado Rapids before a Freddy Adu-fueled crowd of 31,443 at Invesco Field.
United (2-4-3) had three golden chances for a late equalizer, but Adu (who registered his first career assist early in the second half) and Ronald Cerritos each hit the post in the final 15 minutes and David Stokes's header streaked over the crossbar in injury time.
"From a soccer standpoint, we did everything we could to win this game," Nowak said. "At the end of the day, it's pretty frustrating to lose this game."
Not only did Nowak bench struggling goalkeeper Nick Rimando, he skipped over promising backup Doug Warren and turned to third-stringer Troy Perkins, who a year ago was playing for the low minor league Cape Cod Crusaders.
"Everyone deserves a shot," Nowak said. "Troy has worked very hard."
Stokes was awarded his first career start, defensive midfielder Dema Kovalenko was thrust into an attacking role and left wing Josh Gros switched sides.
And in a mild surprise, recent high school graduate Adu returned to the lineup after an influential reserve performance during Wednesday's 4-2 loss to the Los Angeles Galaxy.
Of course, Nowak doesn't have a lot of options these days. Defender Ryan Nelsen and midfielders Ben Olsen and Bobby Convey remained sidelined with injuries, three other attack-oriented players have been out since preseason and rookie midfielder Kevin Ara didn't make the trip because of academic commitments at Harvard.
United's five eligible reserves were Rimando and Warren, forwards Cerritos and Alecko Eskandarian and forward-midfielder Eliseo Quintanilla, who's barely ready to play after recovering from a broken leg.
Rapids management was ecstatic to welcome Adu to town. Through the first three home games, Colorado had averaged just 9,875, second worst in MLS and almost 6,000 below the league average. But everywhere Adu and United go these days, the crowds are sure to follow. Previous D.C. road games drew 27,000, 31,000-plus and better than 17,000.
Besides the Adu factor, the Rapids were also promoting the club's year-long unbeaten streak at home, a span of 16 regular season games (10-0-6) that set the MLS all-time record on Saturday night.
Adu got everyone's attention in the seventh minute, when Jaime Moreno chipped the ball over the defense and the teenager dashed off on a breakaway. But Adu wasn't very creative with the opportunity and goalkeeper Joe Cannon got down in time to block his low attempt.
Six minutes later, the Rapids (2-1-4) went ahead when Liberian forward Zizi Roberts was kept onside in front of Perkins and redirected Haitian forward Jean Philippe Peguero's spectacular bicycle kick past the young keeper for his first goal of the year.
United applied pressure late in the half, with Adu and Earnie Stewart holding possession in the box a few times, but Cannon wasn't seriously tested and the score remained the same at intermission.
D.C. took the initiative at the start of the second half, and it took just two minutes to score the equalizer. Adu shook free on the right and led Stewart nicely. Stewart's cross bounded through the box to Gros, who slammed it into the top of the net for his first career goal.
The Rapids responded five minutes later, however. Chris Henderson crossed from deep on the right flank to Mark Chung, who directed his header in front of the net. Before Perkins could respond, Peguero dived to nod it into the lower right corner for his third goal of the season. United appealed for an offside call, but the linesman's flag stayed down and Colorado's lead had been restored.
Gros, back on the left flank in the second half, continued to cause problems for the Colorado defense with his maturing runs. Adu almost tied it in the 74th minute, but his redirect of Dema Kovalenko's ball hit the right post. Cannon then stuffed Kovalenko's angled attempt and Cerritos's header hit the left post.
"Nothing would go in for me," Adu said. "A little to the left [on his late attempt] and that's a goal."