D.C. United scored first but crashed back to earth with a 5-3 loss on the road on Wednesday against the San Jose Earthquakes, who exploited United’s makeshift back line with equal parts precision and fortune.
The loss ended D.C.’s streak of seven matches unbeaten and two wins in a row while Chris Wondolowski and Steven Lenhart each scored twice for the Western Conference-leading Earthquakes (7-1-1, 22 points), who are playing as well or better than any team in MLS. San Jose earned its third victory in a row and sixth in its last seven games.
D.C. United (4-3-3, 15 points) looked like the team with the superior momentum early as Dwayne De Rosario locked onto a loose ball to deliver a bending one-timer around Jon Busch in the seventh minute.
It took 12 minutes for Lenhart to blast a loose ball of his own past D.C. goalkeeper Joe Willis, but it took only two more minutes for Wondolowski to finish of a sequence in which San Jose picked apart United’s defense. With Emiliano Dudar (hamstring) and Dejan Jakovic (ankle) both unavailable, D.C. coach Ben Olsen chose Perry Kitchen to pair with Brandon McDonald in the center of the defense while returning Marcelo Saragosa to the starting lineup at defensive midfield.
While Earthquakes added a third goal in the 31st minute – Justin Morrow’s deflected volley after another scramble in D.C.’s penalty box – D.C.’s only other highlight of the half came when De Rosario’s bicycle kick was parried by a diving Busch.
Olsen replaced a struggling Saragosa at halftime, moving Kitchen back to his normal position, shifting Robbie Russell to center back and bringing on Andy Najar at right back.
Najar delivered after playing only 25 minutes off the bench in the previous two games, hitting a crisp cross from the end line in the 64th minute to Daniel Woolard, whose diving header cut the Earthquakes’ lead to 3-2.
But Wondolowski, with a header off a cross from Steven Beitashour, and Lenhart chested in the rebound of Marvin Chavez’s blistering shot off the crossbar five minutes apart in the 69th and 74th minutes. Wondolowski moved into the MLS scoring lead with 10 goals while Lenhart has four in his last two games.
D.C. got late consolation as Hamdi Salihi scored his first MLS goal with a deft chip of De Rosario’s cross in the 88th minute.
United never backed down despite being overrun in the first half, and they may not face a team as explosive as San Jose for a while. But they're also back on the field again in just three days’ time at Toronto, and Olsen has plenty of questions to answer before then. Does Bill Hamid deserve a chance in the net after Willis allowed five goals, even if most of them weren’t his fault? Should Najar start, and if so, at right back or for Danny Cruz? What happened with Saragosa, and how will that affect the defense? Salihi scored, but more importantly, he played. Does he deserve the chance to start and improve his scoring rhythm?