The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

After signs of hope, D.C. United regresses in dismal defeat to Union

Taxi Fountas and D.C. United were embarrassed by Jakob Glesnes and the Philadelphia Union on Saturday for the second time in as many meetings. (Jess Rapfogel for The Washington Post)
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D.C. United Coach Wayne Rooney has been in the pro game for 20 years, but after a 6-0 defeat to the Philadelphia Union on Saturday, he said he had “never felt that as a player or a coach. I don’t want to feel that again.”

The worst home defeat in 27 MLS regular seasons was one goal short of the club-record fiasco against the same opponent six weeks ago in Chester, Pa., which occurred just before the retired striker was lured back to Washington after playing here in 2018 and 2019.

Rooney said he was “disappointed, frustrated and embarrassed by the second-half performance” in which the Eastern Conference-leading Union scored four times — and could have had several more.

“Every player in that second half was a complete stranger to what I’ve seen in training, what I’ve seen in previous games,” Rooney said. “You can lose games, but there’s a manner in how that happens.”

After an encouraging display at Western Conference-leading Los Angeles FC on Tuesday and a promising start Saturday, United fell behind by two goals before intermission and crumbled during a second half that became more hideous by the minute before 17,941 patrons.

United (6-16-4) was shut out for the fifth consecutive match and 12th time, but even by snapping out of its scoring rut, United would not have come close to compensating for a cartoonish performance.

D.C. is in a 1-7-2 skid, with the only victory coming on two stoppage-time goals against Orlando City in Rooney’s debut July 31. That’s also the last time the club scored.

Julián Carranza recorded a hat trick over 27 minutes of the second half, Mikael Uhre and Daniel Gazdag scored before halftime and substitute Cory Burke added a late goal as Philadelphia (14-4-9) improved to 11-1-1 in its past 13 meetings with United.

“I knew the difficulties we would have and where this season was” when he took the job, Rooney said.

With the playoffs out of reach, he added, “the important thing is to build a squad and compete. Of course we need more players. I know that. The owners know that. We have to keep trying to build. I have to keep trying to push these players from now until the end of the season to make sure we improve. I have to push the owners in January to get players in who can compete in this league.”

United had conceded two goals in the previous three matches, but with captain Steven Birnbaum serving a red-card suspension, the defense was no match for the high-powered visitors.

“We need to look at ourselves in the mirror. Every single one of us and take f---ing responsibility,” said midfielder Victor Palsson, who wore the captain’s armband and replaced Birnbaum on the back line. “That’s just how it is. It’s not acceptable. I’m ashamed to be captain today.”

D.C. United’s Victor Palsson is a ‘very different person’ from his first MLS stint

United showed no initial aftereffects from the first meeting, taking the initiative and creating danger. The inability to score, though, continued to haunt the hosts.

The Union went ahead in the 37th minute.

Gazdag took the ball from Martín Rodríguez at midfield. Carranza crossed to Uhre in the box. The Danish forward settled the ball with his chest, warded off Palsson and drove a low 10-yarder into the far corner for his ninth goal of the year.

United has conceded the first goal in eight of its past nine matches. The only game in which that did not occur was a 0-0 draw with the New York Red Bulls.

United’s problems deepened on the last act of the half. After video review, Ted Unkel awarded a penalty kick to Philadelphia for Tony Alfaro’s challenge on Uhre. Gazdag converted for his 13th goal.

Less than two minutes into the second half, Carranza finished off United with a curling 18-yarder into the far side netting for his 10th goal.

Carranza slipped a shot under Romo in the 70th minute, then in the 73rd he took advantage of a miscommunication between Romo and Alfaro. The supporters’ groups behind the goal chanted: “Bill Hamid! Bill, Bill Hamid!” — a reference to the injured veteran keeper.

In the 79th, Burke whipped a shot past Romo.

After the final whistle, hundreds of visiting fans celebrated as the Union approached their section. At the other end, United players made their customary walk to their supporters’ groups. Most were gone by then.

“We actually had a good talking at the half,” Palsson said. “We were positive. And then third, fourth, fifth, sixth individual mistakes — we just completely collapsed.”

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

Romo returns to goal

Despite David Ochoa’s sharp performance in his D.C. debut against LAFC, Rooney turned back to Romo in net. Entering the stretch of three matches over seven days, Rooney had set a rotation and stuck with the plan for the last game Saturday.

Going forward, Ochoa seems to have the edge. Another wrinkle, though, is the return of Hamid, who has resumed training after undergoing hand surgery in late June. On the injury list, the team upgraded him to questionable Friday.

Benteke’s visa still pending

There is no predicting when a work visa will clear bureaucratic channels. Two to three weeks is standard, but Rodríguez, a winger from Chile, waited a month. Rooney needed about three weeks.

United officials were optimistic Belgian striker Christian Benteke, the club’s marquee summer signing, would be eligible Saturday, just over two weeks after the sides reached agreement. It didn’t happen. The aim now is to have him in uniform Aug. 28 in Atlanta.

Pete Shuttleworth, who served on Rooney’s staff at English club Derby County, received his visa this past week and joined the other assistants on the sideline Saturday.