D.C. United can't get off the ground against Red Bulls

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Sports,D.C. United,Craig Stouffer

Woeful offense, lapses on defense lead to 2-0 defeat

Ben Olsen's patience with D.C. United's underwhelming start to the season is running out.

After United (1-4-1, 4 points) dropped its third straight game and failed to score for fourth time in six games in Saturday's 2-0 loss to the New York Red Bulls, Olsen had a laundry list of woes. For the first time, he also suggested that the answers might not be found in the roster United put together in the offseason.

"At this point, we gotta fix something," Olsen said. "I don't know if we have to look within the league. I don't know if we've got to make a trade. There's stuff we've got to figure out."

Despite a solid majority of possession (58.2 percent to 41.8), United finished with two shots on goal. The arch rival New York Red Bulls (2-3-2, 8 points) only had three, but converted two of them in a span of seven minutes.

Thierry Henry connected on 25-yard strike that skipped over the outstretched arms of Bill Hamid in the 29th minute, and in the 36th defender Jamison Olave redirected a header from former United defender Brandon Barklate to put United distinctly on their heels.

Before a season high crowd of 18,019 on a perfect evening, D.C. had been dominant in the early stretches and had plenty of space to play throughout the second half as the visitors sat back and defended. But a 31-10 advantage in open play crosses was also evidence of the lack of a threat in front of the opposing net.

"We're easy to play against, from a defensive side and an offensive side," Olsen said. "We're not dynamic enough. We're pretty predictable in the way we go about things, and that's just who we are right now."

Signs of frustration and disconnect grew once New York went ahead. United center back Brandon McDonald raced into the attack and launched low-percentage shots from distance. Center midfielder Raphael Augusto, in the second regular-season start of his MLS career, slapped his sides in frustration as his teammates failed to move and get open late in the first half.

"Somehow we've got to figure something out," United midfielder Chris Pontius said. "We've got to put up some goals. We can't be playing this game of trying to keep shutouts all the time."

But Pontius, who is yet to score in 2013, was also part of the problem, disappearing as he pinched into the middle from the left side. He lost the ball on a wide open breakaway in the first half and rushed his four shots. After 12 goals last season, he has been the target of multiple defenders and repeated physical play.

"So what," Olsen said. "We throw doubles on guys all the time. You don't think we were focused on Thierry Henry tonight? He found ways to get it done. So did [Tim] Cahill. I have their names circled on the board. It's time to stop looking for excuses and start getting the job done. If we can't, again, I'll make some moves because we gotta get better. We can't continue down this path."

The defense let Hamid down on the second goal, but Henry's strike seemed to fool him.

"Bill's bailed us out a lot this year," Olsen said. "But I think Bill will be the first to raise his hand and say, 'I should've dealt with that one.'"

Instead, Hamid complained about the playing surface.

"I could've done better, but at the same time, I really thing something should be done about the six-yard box," Hamid said. "The other one is fine, but the first-half one, that six-yard box is really beat up."

Pontius, defender Dejan Jakovic and forward Dwayne De Rosario, who played the final 45 minutes after missing the previous week with an adductor strain, all believed United showed signs of improvement. But the method in which United grinded out results to claw its way into the playoffs late last season hasn't proved repeatable this spring.

"We just have to keep believing in ourselves, in what we're doing and stay together because it's still a long season - sooner or later, I'm going to get sick of saying that," De Rosario said. "But we have to start getting those results, especially at home."

cstouffer@washingtonexaminer.com

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Craig Stouffer

Staff writer - sports
The Washington Examiner