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Slumping United fall to 4th in the East after 2-1 loss at home to Columbus

Washington, D.C., September 19, 2015 – The age-old sports cliche is that you want to be playing your best as the playoffs approach. Well, D.C. United is doing anything but playing their best as the Black-and-Red drop their fourth match in five games tonight by a 2-1 score to visiting Columbus Crew SC.

Ethan Finlay and Kai Kamara staked Columbus to a 2-0 lead with goals on either side of halftime before Chris Rolfe cut the deficit to 2-1 with a penalty kick goal in the 68th minute. United should have leveled the match 84th minute but Alvaro Saborio’s equalizer was incorrectly ruled out by the far side assistant referee. Such is the way things go when you’re not playing your best soccer.

By virtue of the win, Columbus jumps into first place in the Eastern Conference while sending United tumbling down to fourth place with a tricky road match in Montreal next Saturday afternoon at 5pm. United had held the lead in the Eastern Conference for nearly fourth months until they were passed by New York Red Bull last weekend. A sequence of wins and draws by almost every team in the East combined with United’s five-game winless streak has seen United plummet in the standings. More than the obvious nosedive in the standings is the worrisome play of United.

Ironically, tonight’s match was “the best the team has looked in two months” according to head coach Ben Olsen after the match but it was a continuation of a trend of poor soccer that has put United in a position to scramble to secure a playoff spot. A win tonight would have clinched a playoff berth for United, but even with that missed opportunity it’s hard to see this current form of United doing any damage in the playoffs considering how ineffective they have been the past month and a half.

Frustration continued to mount throughout the match as the Crew deservedly took the lead through Ethan Finlay in the 27th minute. Once again poor defending led to the opening goal as Sean Franklin switched off for a second and failed to deal with a missed clearance and he allowed Tyson Wahl to bring down the ball and poke a cross into the goal mouth where Finlay beat Taylor Kemp to the ball and turned him before firing his shot over Bill Hamid from four yards out.

United twice failed to score on golden opportunities and Saborio was the culprit on both occasions. His break away after stripping Tony Tchani of the ball 30 yards from goal should have given United the early lead but he fired his shot right into the body of prone Columbus goalkeeper Steve Clark. After the visitors had taken the lead Saborio had another chance to equalize when he ran through the heart of the Crew defense only to see his angled shot a bit rushed and pushed to the left of the far side post as Clark was closing down on him.

After the break the Crew doubled their lead through MLS’ leading goal scorer in Kamara in very similar circumstances to Saborio’s first attempt at goal. Tony Tchani burned sent an inch-perfect pass in behind United defender Steve Birnbaum where it met Kamara in stride. Birnbaum was guilty of trying to read the pass from Tchani and overcommited to the outside as Tchani’s pass went inside. Kamara, unlike Saborio, slipped his shot just inside the near post as Hamid was closing ranks on him. The goal for Kamara is his 21st of the season.

United did cut into the lead in the 68th minute after Sean Franklin’s attempted cross into the penalty area was knocked down by the arm of Crew defender Chris Klute. Rolfe stepped up and converted his third PK in three attempts this season despite Clark getting a solid hand to the shot bound for the upper left corner of the goal. For Rolfe, it was his 10th goal of the season and a personal season-high for the veteran midfielder who previously scored 9 goals twice for the Chicago Fire early in his MLS career.

While United looks to their match next weekend against Montreal, minus Perry Kitchen who has to serve a yellow card suspension, they first have to travel to Montego Bay in Jamaica to wrap up group play in the Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League on Tuesday evening. United have already clinched advancement out of the group and no doubt Ben Olsen will leave most, if not all of his starters back in D.C. to rest for the big game in Canada next Saturday.

DC United's Fabian Espiondola shoots past the Crew's Steve Clark to give United the lead. Photo: Martin Fernandez.

United extends unbeaten run to six after 2-0 victory over Columbus

Washington, D.C., May 2, 2015 – To say D.C. United missed Fabian Espindola through their first six MLS league matches is an obvious understatement after his dazzling performance tonight in D.C. United’s 2-0 victory over the Columbus Crew SC tonight at RFK Stadium.

Espindola, making his home debut for United this season, had a goal (above photo: Martin Fernandez) and an assist to lead United to their fifth victory in eight matches on the young season. United (5-1-2, 17 points) extended their unbeaten run to 6 games this season and unbeaten in 14 games going back to June of last year. Columbus (3-3-2, 11 points) remains in fourth place in Eastern Conference while United sits atop the division.

Despite giving up the territorial edge thru the first quarter hour of the match, it was United who struck first on a lightning-quick  counter attack in the 15th minute.  Chris Rolfe picked up a clearance from a Crew SC corner kick and bolted upfield. Rolfe’s pinpoint pass found Espindola in alone behind the Crew defense and the Argentine sniper easily beat goalkeeper Steven Clark for his first goal of the season.

Just three minutes later Espindola should have doubled the advantage but it was Clark’s turn to make the big play by stopping Fabi at point-blank range.

In the 41st minute Espindola made up for the close miss when he became provider for Sean Franklin’s back post tap-in on a corner kick to put the Black-and-Red up by 2-0. Espindola’s curling ball drifted past everyone in the penalty area and hit Franklin all alone for the easy side-footed finish into the empty net.

After the break the visitors understandably took it to United and nearly cut the lead in half when Federico Higuain’s  diving header when inches wide of the near post in the 53rd minute. After that narrow miss, United started to grab a better foothold of the match and nearly extended the lead to 3-0 in the 63rd minute when Chris Korb set Chris Pontius free down the left flank. Pontius’ cross into the goalmouth was scrambled out by the Columbus defense just a fraction before United substitute Michael Farfan could poke it into the goal.

That defensive effort seemed to energize the Crew as they nearly scored twice in quick succession. The first chance came via a lazy turnover from United in the offensive half of the field that set Columbus on their own lightning-quick counter. Kei Kamara’s pass behind the retreating United defense almost found the sliding foot of Ethan Finlay but the chance went begging. Seconds later Kristinn Steindorrsson’s volley shaved just wide of the far post.

Columbus, who dominated possession most of the evening while United were perfectly happy to sting on the counter, continued to apply the pressure and pinned United down in their own end for essentially the last fifteen minutes of the match. However, as has been the case for most of this young season, United fended off the late surge and did what they failed to do in their last two home matches – close out the match.

United will now turn their attention to their match against Sporting Kansas City at RFK next weekend.

United Notes

  •  Bill Hamid returned to the lineup and picked up his fourth shutout in six games. Before that on Friday Hamid signed a multi-year extension on his contract that will reportedly pay him approximately $350,000 per season according to multiple sources. Hamid was in the final year of his contract that he signed as a Homegrown Player in 2010.