A late episode epitomized the afternoon: Forward Ola Kamara halved a two-goal deficit in the 82nd minute, but United conceded its second own goal a moment later amid a miscommunication between goalkeeper Chris Seitz and defender Frédéric Brillant, sealing a third consecutive setback since a season-opening victory.
United has scored four goals in four matches; it also has given away three own goals in its past three outings.
Coach Hernán Losada said he was concerned about his team conceding “stupid goals. When we play against an opponent like Columbus, you can’t make mistakes like the ones we make. Sometimes it’s about communication; sometimes it’s about precision.”
At the same time, Losada said, he recognizes the player shortage. The starting defense Saturday included a backup goalkeeper and two players signed late in training camp. It also included a last-minute replacement at wing back (forward Adrien Pérez) after Joseph Mora was scratched.
“How can I complain about guys who came during preseason to help us?” Losada said, referring to Andy Najar and Tony Alfaro.
Several players, though, “still have a long way to go to reach their best soccer,” he said. “On the other hand, when you are with three substitutions on the bench, everything has been said. … The guys who are getting opportunities now, they are also playing for their futures, and the moment we have more guys, it will be a lot more competitive.”
The injury bug seemed to abate over the past week with the return of Kamara and defender Michael DeShields. But then starters Erik Sorga (leg) and Brendan Hines-Ike (eye) were hurt during training, and Mora walked off with a trainer in pregame warmups.
The absences included seven sure starters (Hines-Ike, Mora, Bill Hamid, Steven Birnbaum, Donovan Pines, Russell Canouse and Paul Arriola) and two strong candidates (Yordy Reyna and Nigel Robertha). United was left with four available subs (including a keeper), five fewer than allowed. The team has yet to have the full allotment this season.
Kimarni Smith, a first-round draft pick from Clemson, made his first start. He was the fourth choice at striker, behind Sorga, Robertha and Kamara, who wasn’t ready for an extended stint.
On the personnel situation, Brillant said: “We are professional, and we have to figure it out. We have to stay positive and build better chemistry. We need everybody.”
And, he added with a chuckle, “We need a few players on the bench.”
United bid farewell to the 20,000-seat venue, which, when it opened in 1999, began MLS teams’ move from being secondary residents in oversize multisport facilities to being primary tenants in midsize stadiums with proper dimensions, sightlines and revenue streams.
On July 3, the Crew (1-0-2) will christen a downtown complex that will join numerous other modern homes around the league. United will inspect Columbus’s new digs Aug. 4. By then, Losada hopes to have a healthy and competitive squad.
United showed promising signs early, but in the 20th minute Crew star Lucas Zelarayán earned a free kick in a threatening spot, then hooked a 27-yard bid over the wall, beyond Seitz’s reach and into the left side of the net.
Columbus faced fatigue issues after playing a Concacaf Champions League match Wednesday in Monterrey, Mexico, but Zelarayán skipped the trip because of a yellow-card suspension, and his teammates did not seem burdened by the arduous week.
“Every team has key players, game-changers, and at this moment, those players are making a difference for the opponents and not for us,” Losada said. “On the system, the formation, the game plan, I don’t have any regrets.”
Early in the second half, the visitors enjoyed possession and opportunities but made no serious threats. The Crew responded with a 63rd-minute goal.
Luis Diaz crossed to Pedro Santos, who chested the ball down before launching a wicked half-volley on a tight angle. Seitz made the save, but with Crew forward Gyasi Zardes and Brillant bearing down, the rebound struck Brillant in the chest and caromed into the net.
United’s Edison Flores, a high-priced designated player, was not a factor until his clever touch set up Kamara’s goal from seven yards. Shortly after the restart, though, Seitz came out for the ball as Brillant stabbed it. As it drifted toward the net, Alfaro’s desperate clearance failed. Alfaro was given the own goal, but the fault fell with Seitz and Brillant.
“It’s bad,” Brillant said, “because at this time we have the possibility to come back.”
United was finished on this day and finished at the outgoing stadium, posting a 1-9-3 record in its past 13 visits.
“We need to go forward, and we need to stay positive and together knowing we have four more games until the break [in early June],” Losada said. “In the meantime, we’re trying to do the best we can with what we have.”
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