MONTREAL — D.C. United trudged through the third of five matches in a two-week span Saturday, and while the Montreal Impact was the superior side, earning a 3-0 victory that tightened the Eastern Conference playoff race, United believed the circumstances and events were tilted against it.
Every team has to deal with MLS’s inconsistent scheduling. Now it’s United’s turn.
With a draw and victory in the previous six days and two difficult matches approaching this week, Coach Ben Olsen withheld his two most important attackers, Dwayne De Rosario and Chris Pontius, from the starting lineup.
Combined with Nick DeLeon’s illness — he remained at the hotel — and two disputed calls, United (12-9-4, 40 points) didn’t have anything go its way in losing its fifth consecutive away match.
Marco Di Vaio scored midway through the first half and Patrice Bernier struck twice after intermission for the expansion Impact (12-13-3, 39), which has played three more matches than United.
“It goes on,” Olsen said. “These two weeks are going to be a grind and we’ve got to figure a way to get three [points] at home” Wednesday against the New York Red Bulls (13-7-5, 44 points).
“This is very poor scheduling,” United President Kevin Payne said. The league “needs to pay more attention to the competitive aspects.”
Montreal hadn’t played since last Saturday. The roles were reversed in late June, when United had six days to prepare for the Impact’s visit while Montreal was playing its fifth match in 15 days. The outcome was the same: 3-0 in favor of the home team.
Olsen rested Pontius and, after initially deciding to start De Rosario, chose just before game-time not to risk the captain’s sore left calf. They, as well as playmaker Branko Boskovic, didn’t enter until varying stages of the second half. In their absence, United generate few quality opportunities.
“We’re still not through this stretch,” Pontius said. “You’re going to have games like this where there are heavy legs.”
That said, United wasn’t sharp on a routine play that led to Di Vaio’s 24th-minute goal in front of 20,011 at sold-out Saputo Stadium. The Italian forward settled into a pocket and collecting Bernier’s through ball before bending an angled shot to the far side beyond Bill Hamid’s reach. Bernier had taken possession off a throw-in and was afforded ample time and space to pick out Di Vaio.
Montreal stretched the lead in the 50th minute. Emiliano Dudar, United’s 6-foot-4 center back, shouldered Collen Warner off the ball in the box. Warner flew. Referee Matthew Foerster ruled Dudar had used too much force. Bernier converted the penalty kick.
“It wasn’t a penalty. We’re in a rut where the refs aren’t helping us right now at all,” Dudar said through an interpreter, referencing United’s controversial match against Philadelphia last Sunday.
With Boskovic, Pontius and De Rosario’s arrival, United began to mount a challenge. In the 78th minute, De Rosario crossed to Marcelo Saragosa in stride at the back post, but Troy Perkins intervened with an exceptional kick save.
Moments later, Montreal’s Alessandro Nesta shoved Pontius into Perkins. The ball fell to United’s Lewis Neal for a high finish, but Foerster whistled Pontius for a foul and disallowed the goal. Later, Bernier beat Hamid to the near post in stoppage time.
“I don’t know how that is a foul on me,” Pontius said. “Once again, we don’t get that call and they get a PK call. These things tend to go against you on the road.”