Fire 3, United 0

D.C. United's match against the Chicago Fire at sunny Soldier Field on Saturday afternoon lasted the usual 90 minutes, plus some added time for injuries and other delays. But as far as United was concerned, there were few signs of hope after the first few moments, and the club was fortunate not to lose by an astronomical number of goals.

"It's embarrassing to lose like that," midfielder Ben Olsen said following an unsightly 3-0 defeat to the Fire before 25,810 spectators. "There were so many things we didn't do correctly. We were flat, our team defense wasn't there, the dedication wasn't there. We were out of whack."

Damani Ralph scored every goal, in the 15th, 55th and 69th minutes, each from an acute angle, to hand United (3-5-3) its third loss in the last four matches. Rookie goalkeeper Troy Perkins wasn't at his sharpest following two good performances to start his career, but in his defense, he had no defense in front of him.

Without all-star Ryan Nelsen and Bryan Namoff, United's back line was exposed repeatedly, and inexperienced David Stokes was torched on several occasions by the Fire's forceful attack. If not for Perkins's eight first-half saves, including several gems, the match might've been out of hand by intermission.

"I feel like the Fire didn't win the game; we lost this game because of our performance," said United Coach Peter Nowak, a former Fire captain. "The soccer part wasn't great. . . . We can't make mistakes like that. We let ourselves down, the whole team, starting with the coaches."

Chicago (4-2-4) stretched United's defense like a rubber band that seemed on the brink of snapping. The three-man defense found itself chasing the ball all afternoon as Fire midfielders found inviting seams deep in D.C.'s end and space to drop passes over the top of United's defenders.

"It easily could've been a 7-0 game," said Ralph, who became the second player to record a hat trick against United in the last three weeks.

United actually had a good portion of possession in the first half but failed on its few scoring chances and generally had trouble linking the final pass. The absence of Jaime Moreno, who's recovering from a quadriceps injury, was glaring as United couldn't hold the ball on the attack as long as it usually does. Nowak had prepared to insert Moreno in the second half, but once the outcome became clear, he decided to not risk further injury to his Bolivian forward.

Freddy Adu, who turned 15 Wednesday, started for the third straight game, and although he put a nice touch on his early passes, he didn't threaten to score and didn't seem in sync with striking partner Ronald Cerritos. Cerritos didn't do well with his opportunities, failing to lift the ball over goalkeeper Henry Ring with a chance to tie the game in the 42nd minute on a clear attempt set up by Adu. The Salvadoran also missed the far corner on two other first-half occasions.

Perkins was busy from the start, getting involved in a spectacular collision with DaMarcus Beasley on a long ball into the box after 90 seconds. In the 15th minute, Ralph muscled away from Stokes and drilled a six-yard shot between Perkins's legs.

Perkins kept it close until halftime with several diving saves, but 10 minutes into the second half, Ralph slipped behind Stokes, settled Chris Armas's pass and ripped a 10-yard shot over Perkins and into the far side. "I thought he was going to go low," Perkins said. "I made it easy for him."

On the final goal, Ralph brought down Nate Jaqua's cross and drilled an angled shot that appeared to skip off defender Mike Petke's foot and sail over Perkins's head for his sixth goal of the year.

"We weren't very good, and when you give them chances like we did, they're going to finish them," said Olsen, who strained his knee and could miss next Saturday's game against Colorado. "We've got to do better than that."

United Notes: Namoff (abdominal strain) and forward Alecko Eskandarian (hamstring) were not available. Namoff had started the previous 10 games, and Eskandarian had played in all 10, starting five. . . . Nelsen, who has missed two matches because of New Zealand national team duty, will be back for next week's game, but midfielders Bobby Convey and Earnie Stewart will depart for U.S. World Cup qualifiers against Grenada.

* BURN 2, METROSTARS 0: Ronnie O'Brien set up second-half goals by Eddie Johnson and Toni Nhleko to lead visiting Dallas.

* WIZARDS 2, GALAXY 1: Diego Gutierrez scored in the 86th minute to help Kansas City rally on the road.

D.C. United's Mike Petke, left, and Chicago Fire's Logan Pause vie for control of the ball. United played match without all-star Ryan Nelsen, Bryan Namoff.