Crew 1, United 0
-- D.C. United was distressed about several aspects of its 1-0 loss to the Columbus Crew on Saturday night -- a result that extended United's wretched road record and slowed its late-season march toward the MLS playoffs.
The club lamented its missed scoring chances and expressed concern about the status of star forward Jaime Moreno, who left with a strained left hamstring midway through the first half. But what the players and coaches wanted to discuss in detail was referee Jair Marrufo, who ejected all-star defender Ryan Nelsen just before halftime and had ongoing exchanges with other D.C. players throughout the evening.
It started when Nelsen received a yellow card in the 20th minute for arguing a foul called on teammate Bryan Namoff.
"I told him it was the most embarrassing call I've ever seen, and he gives me a yellow card without even flinching," said Nelsen, who will have to sit out next weekend's match at New York/New Jersey. "A referee has got to have thick skin."
Then in the 40th minute, Marrufo slapped Nelsen with a second yellow after a hard tackle on Edson Buddle along the sideline. After the second card, "I used some bad language, I told him what I thought of him because he was ruining the game," Nelsen said.
Other United players accused Marrufo of directing profane language toward them on several occasions. Marrufo was not available to comment afterward.
"I don't know if he has something personal against me, but I have something personal against him now," said forward Alecko Eskandarian, whose yellow card in the 82nd minute will result in a one-game suspension for an accumulation of penalty points. "His resume speaks for itself."
Last year Marrufo was removed from the MLS referee rotation by the U.S. Soccer Federation, which oversees officiating in pro leagues, for a series of controversial decisions, including one that greatly benefited United during a victory at Dallas.
"In our league, there's something wrong because it's getting worse right now," Coach Peter Nowak said. "I know what the referee said to [Nelsen], I know what the referee said to the players and this kind of stuff isn't acceptable in professional soccer."
As for the match, Tony Sanneh scored on a 10th-minute header as the Crew (11-5-10) extended its unbeaten streak to 14 games, one short of the MLS record set by Los Angeles six years ago. United (8-10-9) dropped to 1-8-5 on the road.
United got off to a composed start before the announced sellout of 23,775. But in the 10th minute, Crew midfielder Simon Elliott swung in a free kick from near the sideline. The 6-foot-2 Sanneh made a near-post run and drilled a six-yard header that goalkeeper Nick Rimando slapped but couldn't prevent from dropping into the left corner of net.
For Sanneh, a United standout from 1996 to '98 before embarking on a German league career, it was his second goal in four appearances since rejoining MLS a month ago.
Things got bad for United in the 22nd minute when Moreno, who had contributed six assists in the previous two matches, hurt his hamstring and departed.
Goalkeeper Jon Busch kept the Crew's lead intact with a pair of outstanding saves, including a breathtaking left-handed slap of Eskandarian's volley from the top of the box.
United maintained its stylish possession game, leaving the Crew to rely on counterattacks, but the equalizer never materialized. Then, right before the half, United's problems worsened when Nelsen was issued his second yellow card for a challenge in front of the Crew bench.
In the 49th minute, Eskandarian probably should've tied the game, but his powerful 10-yard shot sailed higher than he would've liked and skimmed off Busch's hands and over the crossbar.
Ten minutes later, the Crew was lamenting a missed opportunity as Kyle Martino raced off on a breakaway but, after wheeling past Rimando, hit the right post instead of the open net. Later, the Crew's Jeff Cunningham had three chances to seal it, but botched each of them.
Earnie Stewart, Moreno's replacement, had two bids deep in the box in the 89th minute, but one was deflected and the other covered by Busch. Teammate Mike Petke ballooned an opportunity a minute later.
"Even a man down, we can play pretty good soccer," Nowak said. "They didn't quit, but unfortunately we didn't convert our chances."
* METROSTARS 1, BURN 0: In Dallas, John Wolyniec scored in the 30th minute to help the MetroStars clinch a playoff spot.
* GALAXY 0, EARTHQUAKES 0: Host San Jose moved into a tie for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. San Jose, the 2003 MLS Cup champion, tied the Burn with three games remaining.
* WIZARDS 1, RAPIDS 0: Russian striker Igor Simutenkov scored the lone goal to lift Kansas City to victory at home.
* FIRE 2, REVOLUTION 0: Andy Herron scored two goals to lead host Chicago.