D.C. United is much better than last year, but the wrenching result late Saturday at Portland rekindled unkind memories of the 2013 debacle.
United conceded a goal in the opening seconds and, after making a pair of comebacks, yielded a tiebreaking strike in the waning seconds in losing to previously winless Timbers, 3-2, at Providence Park.
“Starting the game wasn’t good enough, and the way we managed the game in the end was amateur,” Coach Ben Olsen said. “We take a game where we definitely should get a point, if not three, and turn it into a loss.”
The defeat closed United’s unbeaten streak at five and extended its winless skid in MLS regular season away matches to 21, dating from October 2012.
United (3-3-2) had made incremental strides since beginning the season with two defeats, tightening the defense and finding an attacking rhythm. It has accumulated points at home and moved up the Eastern Conference standings, despite Eddie Johnson’s scoring rut and Chris Pontius’s long-term injury absence.
The outcome in Portland, though, was a step back.
“To give up a goal that late after you’ve battled back twice, in a tough place to play, against a good team, is not easy to swallow,” midfielder Davy Arnaud said.
Arnaud provided the first comeback with a 21st-minute goal, a deflected shot from 35 yards that looped over goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts. After the Timbers (1-3-5) regained the lead before halftime, United drew even again in the 78th minute on an own goal off one of its eight corner kicks.
In stoppage time, however, Portland’s Diego Valeri targeted Maximiliano Urruti at the six-yard box. Urruti beat Jeff Parke to the cross and volleyed off the near post. The ball caromed directly back to the Timbers reserve and, before the turning Parke could react, Urruti one-timed it past Bill Hamid.
United’s past two away matches have ended in bitter disappointment. Two weeks ago, with a 1-0 lead and a man advantage at Columbus, D.C. yielded a 90th-minute equalizer. There was a late-game issue at home, as well: In the third game of the season, United surrendered the lead in the 82nd minute and settled for a tie with Chicago.
“In the second half [in Portland], we realized we’re good soccer players,” Olsen said. “We were confident in the way we pass the ball. We were physical. Some of their key players were nullified. Just very disappointing to come out of here with nothing.”
United has a much shorter trip this weekend: at Philadelphia (1-4-5) on Saturday afternoon. The Union, winless in eight straight, also allowed a late game-winner Saturday, falling at Seattle on Chad Marshall’s 84th-minute header.