The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

An early gaffe proves costly as D.C. United’s woes continue vs. Montreal

D.C. United defender Donovan Pines, left, had trouble with CF Montréal forward Romell Quioto, right, most of the night at Audi Field on Saturday. (Nick Wass/AP)

Wayne Rooney had just settled into a suite-level seat Saturday night — his standard perch until he receives a work visa that will allow him to begin coaching D.C. United — when misery struck before a minute had elapsed at Audi Field.

Center back Donovan Pines failed to settle a simple pass. Romell Quioto surged around goalkeeper Rafael Romo. Pines knocked down the scrambling Romo. The CF Montreal attacker slotted a low shot past the sliding defender.

In this sad season, United’s problems have blanketed the 90-minute canvas. But on this humid night, the tone was set in 44 seconds. D.C. showed resilience in the second half, but the 2-1 defeat dropped MLS’s worst side to 5-12-3 — with just one win in 11 games since mid-May — and left Rooney facing a massive undertaking when he officially takes the helm.

Quioto, a Honduran national team attacker, scored twice in the first half, taking advantage of faulty defending in both instances. The first was comical, the second a display of raw superiority.

United did create some good opportunities — captain Steven Birnbaum scored early in the second half — but the lack of quality was conspicuous.

“It will come for us,” midfielder Jackson Hopkins said. “We’re adding more and more quality, and that’s going to give us the boost we need to get some wins.”

Help has begun to arrive. Striker Miguel Berry, acquired in a trade with Columbus this past week, was in the starting lineup, and Chilean winger Martín Rodríguez debuted in the second half after receiving his work visa days ago.

Rooney’s first overseas recruit, attacker Ravel Morrison, was in attendance but, like Rooney, his former Derby County coach, must wait for a visa. Others have been targeted for acquisition before the transfer and trade window closes Aug. 4.

In all likelihood, Rooney will return to England in the next day or two to finalize paperwork and replace interim coach Chad Ashton before next Sunday’s match against visiting Orlando City.

As players arrive, “you’ll see that come together more and more and more, but obviously it takes time,” Ashton said. “It takes time learning the system. It takes time understanding what the little nuances of it are, but you will see growth quickly once you start to have all those pieces on the field together.”

Montreal (11-8-2) wasted no time taking the lead, thanks to Pines’s miscue and Quioto’s polish.

“Obviously, the first close is a bit of a mistake, but mistakes are always going to happen, and we need to respond a little bit better and a little bit quicker,” Ashton said.

United was fortunate the deficit didn’t grow before the 20th minute: D.C. committed a foul a step outside the penalty area, and an offside call negated Alistair Johnston’s apparent goal.

Quioto doubled the lead in the 35th minute, getting behind Gaossou Samaké on Joel Waterman’s long ball and chipping the ball over the advancing Romo for his ninth goal.

It almost got worse before intermission. D.C.'s Sofiane Djeffal passed directly to Quioto. The gaffe was so sudden, the Montreal player launched a 40-yard shot over Romo stationed near the top of the box, but the bid landed on the top of the net.

United tested goalkeeper James Pantemis multiple times before breaking through in the 56th minute.

Hopkins, an 18-year-old homegrown player, served a 35-yard free kick to the heart of the box. Birnbaum made a near-post run and drove an 11-yard header into the near side for his first goal of the year.

Pantemis made a sterling save on Berry. Taxi Fountas, United’s leading scorer, hit the near post from a tight angle. Substitute Kimarni Smith missed by a whisker after keeping his balance instead of trying to draw a penalty kick.

“If he stays on the ground,” Ashton said, “that’s probably a reviewable play, then possibly get you a penalty.”

Chris Odoi-Atsem’s solo burst was interrupted at the last moment deep in the box.

There was ambition and promise but ultimately another setback.

“We showed signs of life,” Berry said, “and that’s a good step forward.”

Here’s what else to know about United’s loss:

Lineup changes

The lineup choices — and the bench decisions — were packed with surprises. In consultation with Ashton, Rooney made them, in part, to reward players for performances against Bayern Munich in Wednesday’s friendly but also because he needs to gain a better understanding of individuals in match situations.

The extent of his evaluation before accepting the job was to watch some matches live, some on tape, while in England. He also accessed video of training sessions.

Saturday marked the third league match — and fourth overall — that he has witnessed in person.

Drew Skundrich, a natural midfielder, started at right back in place of Andy Najar. Samaké and midfielder Ted Ku-DiPietro, a homegrown rookie who scored against Bayern Munich, made their first league starts.

Regulars Najar, Brendan Hines-Ike and Ola Kamara were in reserve. Forwards Michael Estrada and Nigel Robertha and defender Tony Alfaro were not in uniform; none of them are injured.

Only three starters were with the team last season: Skundrich, Birnbaum and Pines.

Canouse out

Defensive midfielder Russell Canouse was excused to be with his wife, Erika, who is expecting their first child soon. He has made 12 appearances (10 starts) and recently returned from a three-game injury absence.

Fairfax’s Espinal signs

Fairfax’s Isaac Espinal, a 16-year-old forward from D.C.'s youth academy, signed a pro contract with second-division Loudoun United. As an amateur, he made six appearances as a sub. … At halftime, D.C.'s under-16 squad was honored for winning the MLS Next Cup title this month in Frisco, Tex.

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