D.C. United midfielder Chris Pontius chases the ball against Columbus Crew midfielder Eddie Gaven. United is struggling to score goals so far this season. (Nick Wass/AP)

The fact that D.C. United’s Bill Hamid made five marvelous saves Saturday was both heartening and troubling for Coach Ben Olsen.

The 22-year-old goalkeeper remains in fine form, but the amount of work required of him is a sign of United’s deficiencies elsewhere.

“We’re asking a lot of Bill right now,” Olsen said following a 2-1 loss to the Columbus Crew before 11,034 at RFK Stadium. “I wish I didn’t have to see him make so many great saves.”

If not for Hamid’s gems, Olsen added, “the game could have been 8-0.”

A week after Hamid’s heroics salvaged an undeserved tie at New York, United (1-2-1) was outplayed much of the afternoon and had its 19-game home unbeaten streak snapped.

Brazilian striker Rafael scored from 35 yards in his debut, but United labored to sustain possession and conceded a pair of goals off set pieces. Josh Williams scored on a header in the 15th minute and Ben Speas broke a 1-1 tie in the 58th after United failed to clear a free kick.

D.C. also lost a starting midfielder for the second time in three weeks as Nick DeLeon departed with a hamstring injury in the first half. He will undergo an MRI exam and seems likely to join John Thorrington (sprained knee ligament) on the sideline for an extended period.

The club’s problems, however, run deeper than injuries.

“We haven’t been good with the ball at all,” midfielder Chris Pontius said. “We need more dangerous possession. We’re too easy to defend right now. It’s not dynamic enough.”

United has scored just twice in four matches, but just as troubling is the absence of consistent ball control. “It was just an easy day for them in midfield,” Olsen said of the Crew (2-1-1).

Hamid took some responsibility for the Crew’s goals, saying he should have held back on Williams’s nine-yard header and should have done better on the sequence resulting in Speas’s goal. But he also rescued United with a variety of acrobatic and reflex saves, the best coming in the 54th minute on consecutive shots deep in the box.

Although the Crew dictated terms, United did create some quality chances. Rafael, 20, struck a wonderful goal in the 22nd minute, smashing a distant shot in stride with goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum scrambling back into position after a clearance.

United appeared to take a 2-1 lead just before halftime on Kyle Porter’s breakaway. Referee Allen Chapman had allowed play to continue, even though his assistant signaled offside on United’s Lionard Pajoy. Chapman never sounded his whistle, and while Columbus’s defenders stopped for a moment, Porter scored. Only after consulting with the assistant afterward did Chapman wave off the goal.

Gruenebaum matched Hamid’s performance in the second half, thwarting Dwayne De Rosario’s angled header and then denying three bids in a 30-second span. On the last one, he stuffed De Rosario’s clear attempt from short distance on the goal line.

“We have to teach and get back to fundamentals because right now the team doesn’t have a lot of the good things we had at the end of last year,” Olsen said. “I’ve got to get that in them very quickly.”

United won’t play again until April 5 at Sporting Kansas City.

“It’s better we start noticing the problems now,” De Rosario said, “before it’s too late.”

United notes: Defender Dejan Jakovic (Canada) and midfielder Marcos Sanchez (Panama) were on international duty. Midfielder Marcelo Saragosa (two starts) was not available because of a hamstring injury.