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D.C. United snaps scoreless streak but can’t keep Atlanta under wraps

Atlanta United 3, D.C. United 2

D.C. United's Chris Durkin, left, confronts Atlanta's Amar Sejdic during Sunday's first half at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. (Dale Zanine/USA Today Sports)

ATLANTA — In a quiet locker room after another defeat, this one by a 3-2 count to Atlanta United on Sunday, D.C. United players gathered around smartphones to watch where things had gone so terribly wrong after the last-place club twice had taken the lead.

D.C. ended a five-game scoreless streak — its longest in 20 years — but the defense failed to prevent crosses and close down space. It lost track of attackers and didn’t mark well, resulting in three goals headed in from close range.

“We made it almost easy for them,” goalkeeper David Ochoa said.

“We keep on making too many mistakes,” forward Ravel Morrison said. “No communication.”

“We let ourselves down,” center back Steven Birnbaum said.

“Three very easy goals,” Coach Wayne Rooney said, “and cheap goals to give away.”

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All the scoring occurred in a 22-minute stretch of the second half. Morrison scored a wonder goal, but Atlanta equalized two minutes later. Ola Kamara, who replaced injured star Taxi Fountas, restored the lead, but the hosts answered within seven minutes, then went ahead in the 69th minute.

D.C. (6-17-4) has lost four straight, is winless in six and is 1-8-2 since July 8.

It also lost Fountas, an all-star with 11 goals, after he suffered a head injury and entered the concussion protocols. He will miss at least one game, possibly two and maybe more, Rooney said.

The Greek forward absorbed several hard challenges before exiting in the 29th minute.

“That’s up to the officials to manage that, and I think he was targeted,” Rooney said. “In fairness, the referee did produce a yellow card,” and Rooney conceded he had not watched video of all the contact.

On the play that ended Fountas’s day, he received a nudge from behind at the top of the penalty area, and as he fell, Atlanta’s Alan Franco crashed into him. He was treated on the field for several minutes, then underwent observation on the sideline before being ruled out.

Without its creative force, D.C. figured to labor more than usual. But less than two minutes into the second half, Morrison scored his first goal since he arrived midseason from England’s Derby County — and it was a gem. He chested down a clearance and volleyed a 25-yard shot that skipped into the far corner.

The hosts (8-10-9) quickly answered. Thiago Almada served a corner kick to the edge of the six-yard box, where Franco beat Chris Durkin to the header.

D.C. responded in the 55th when Durkin crossed to Kamara for a downward header inside the six-yard box and his eighth goal.

D.C.’s marking then cost it twice. Two minutes after entering, Josef Martínez was left unchecked in the box — a major oversight given he entered the day with 95 goals in 127 MLS matches — and finished with clinical precision.

“We allow him to be alone,” Rooney said, “you’re asking for trouble.”

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Atlanta took its first lead when Amar Sejdic (University of Maryland) lifted the ball into the six-yard box. Juan José Purata overpowered D.C.’s defense and nodded in his third goal of the year.

The second-half letdown came after a strong defensive performance after 45 minutes. D.C. players covered for one another, interrupted crosses and blocked shots. For just the third time in nine matches, they didn’t concede a goal before halftime.

Then it unraveled.

“Basic errors,” Rooney said. “The goals speak for themselves.”

With one last chance, amid chaos in Atlanta’s box, sub Kimarni Smith whiffed on a 10-yarder — symbolic of this lost season.

“This one hurts,” Birnbaum said, “because we felt like the game was there.”

Here’s what else to know about D.C.’s defeat:

Still waiting for Benteke

D.C. had hoped Belgian striker Christian Benteke, its marquee summer signing, would debut Sunday, but with the visa process incomplete, the club is now aiming for a Tuesday arrival stateside and a second-half appearance Wednesday against reigning champion New York City FC.

The former Premier League standout is tentatively scheduled to fly to New York from London and join his new teammates. He is not unfamiliar with them; before he returned to England for visa processing, he spent a week in Washington.

Though Benteke has not played competitively since May 19, he was active in Crystal Palace’s training camp. Rooney said he would like to play him 20 minutes Wednesday.

His Audi Field debut would come next Sunday against the Colorado Rapids.

Romo in concussion protocols

Rafael Romo, the primary starting goalkeeper all summer, is in the concussion protocols after getting hurt in training. His status for Wednesday has not been determined.

Rooney said that, although Ochoa has played well in two appearances, he has not secured the No. 1 position on the depth chart.

Bill Hamid, the longtime starting keeper who had hand surgery June 30, was taken off the injury list for the first time this past week. He is working on fitness and sharpness, but with D.C. officials high on Ochoa, Hamid probably will have a hard time regaining the starting job before his contract expires this winter.