DC United Falls to Columbus at Home

Loss ends 19-game unbeaten streak at RFK Stadium
by Peter Muller   |   Saturday, March 23, 2013

United Capitol – column on DC United (DCU) & the Washington DC/DMV area soccer scene.

DC United fell to Eastern Conference rival Columbus Crew at RFK Stadium on Saturday, a 2-1 loss that ended its 19-game home undefeated streak.  In a wide-open, fast-paced match that produced multiple scoring opportunities, it was 2 Crew set-pieces that ultimately were the difference in the game.

The Saturday matinee, played before a disappointing crowd of 11,034, featured a re-styled DC United formation meant to improve possession and generate a more potent offensive threat.  After scoring just 1 goal in 3 games, United manager Ben Olsen put a pair of natural strikers atop of the DC line and moved Dwayne De Rosario into an attacking midfield slot.

The changes had mixed results. United had greater possession of the ball than in previous games and 20-year old Brazilian Rafael produced a moment of brilliance to score United’s goal.   But there were large holes in the DC midfield and Crew field general Federico Higuain had acres of space to guide the Columbus attack.

In a game that featured to-notch goalkeeping at both ends of the field, it was a mistake by DC United’s keeper Bill Hamid that contributed to the first Columbus goal. Columbus defender Tyson Wahl sent a free kick into the box that appeared to confuse Hamid, who hesitated before charging off his line. Josh Williams got his head to the bill first and nodded it into the open United net.

Hamid admitted he should have held his position on the play but his coach didn’t assign blame to the goalkeeper.  “I think his positives are far outweighing his negatives right now,” said Olsen.  “He is the least of my concerns right now.”

Olsen’s primary concern entering the game had to be the lackluster performance of his offense.  With just one goal in three games, and few threatening opportunities, United’s attack needed a shakeup.  Olsen turned to United’s “young designated player”, Rafael, who had yet to play this season.

While the pairing of Rafael and Pajoy is clearly a work in progress, the youngster showed a flash of his raw ability with a long-range goal to tie the game in the 22nd minute. Chris Pontius sent a headed-ball across the midfield line to Rafael, who muscled his way around fellow-Brazilian Glauber before launching a 35-yard laser into the lower right corner of the goal. 

United appeared to take the lead late in the first half when Kyle Porter, who had come on for the injured Nick DeLeon, got behind the Columbus defense on a pass down the right wing and put a shot past goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum. The line judge put up his flag to indicate that Pajoy was in an offside position but referee Allen Chapman initially allowed the play to stand. After conferring with his assistant, Chapman determined Pajoy had made an attempt for the ball and disallowed the goal.

It was another set-play in the 58th minute that led to United’s downfall. Higuain sent a ball into the box from the left side that bounced off an unknowing Hamid and found its way to Ben Speas, who blasted a shot from the edge of the penalty box that found the back of the net for his first career goal. 

“You play Columbus every year and it’s the same thing – set pieces, set pieces, set pieces,” said Olsen. “If you give them too many opportunities, eventually you’re going to give one up.”

The last half hour featured open play, numerous goal-scoring chances and dramatic saves by both goalkeepers. United sustained possession for long periods while Columbus seemed content to defend its goal and see out its victory. 

Pajoy squandered many opportunities on the day but got a good look at goal in the 72nd minute when Pontius sent in an inviting cross. Pajoy’s shot was denied by Gruenebaum, who then blocked a shot by Brandon McDonald from the top of the box and finished the sequence by somehow keeping De Rosario’s angled attempt out of the corner of the goal.

In the end, United’s offense showed signs of life but was able to score just one goal while Columbus made the most of its set-piece opportunities.

“We obviously see there’s a lot of things we need to work on,” said De Rosario, “and better that we see those things now and start to work and make improvements and adjustments.”

“We just weren’t good enough on the ball, again,” said Olsen.  “We’ll work on it.  We’ve got two weeks to work on things.  I’ll take the blame for that game, 100%.  We’ve got two weeks now for me to whip this team in to shape.”


United midfielder Nick DeLeon was forced to leave the game in the 26th minute with an apparent leg injury.   “It’s probably not great,” Olsen said.  “But we will evaluate him in the next day or two.”

Next Up: April 5 - DC United vs. Sporting Kansas City, Sporting Park, Kansas City, KS, 8:30 PM ET, MLS Live.


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Peter is a government relations professional in Washington, DC, and Los Angeles, CA. He has been a DC United season ticket holder since 1997 and has attended every MLS Cup except one – in 1998 when he was busy helping his boss get re-elected to Congress.