Nobody in D.C. United's locker room was happy with the team's 2-1 home loss to the Columbus Crew on Saturday night. Not only did the loss snap their 17-game home unbeaten streak; not only did the two goals double the number conceded by United on the season; not only was Bill Hamid forced to stand on his head again to keep the score as low as it was. It was also the case that this was a winnable game. Despite being outshot by the Crew, it took Columbus goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum's own shot-stopping clinic to save a draw for the visitors.
The game started slowly for United. Forced to abandon the double pivot an injury to Marcelo Saragosa, Ben Olsen gave his young designated player Rafael the first start - hell, the first minutes - of his MLS career. After going down 0-1 to a Columbus set piece goal, Rafael rewarded Olsen with a 35-yard blast that is an early Goal of the Week favorite and capped it off with his Gladiador thumbs-down goal celebration. United mustered more danger than they have all year, forcing some ridiculous saves from Gruenebaum along the way.
But, it wasn't enough. Columbus knows they're a set-piece dependent team - especially without Jairo Arrieta on the field - and they did everything they could to win free kicks. Hell, Eddie Gaven was yellow carded for a dive in the box and was whistled for another one later (referee Allen Chapman inexplicably did not have the courage to brandish a second yellow). One such free kick, awarded after it looked to me like Ben Speas tripped himself in the vicinity of a United player just outside the left corner of the penalty box, led to the game-winner after United failed to clear a dipping delivery from Frederico Higuain.
United actually could have gone ahead late in the first half when Kyle Porter scored an odd goal 1v1 with Gruenebaum. Lionard Pajoy initially ran on a through ball, but realizing he had been in an offside position, broke off his run before playing the ball or coming near any Columbus players. Kyle Porter continued his onside run, though, and finished easily after every Crew player took it upon themselves to stop playing. Again, showing a stunning lack of courage, Allen Chapman, having initially calling "play on" and overruling the AR's flagging offside, nullified the goal and gave the offside.
In any event, it wasn't the referee or set pieces that dominated Ben Olsen's and his players' statements after the game. The phrase that came instead was "lack of sharpness." First touches, passing, understanding - it isn't where anybody wants it to be. Olsen said the two weeks until United's next game will be spent getting "back to basics" and focusing on the little, fundamental things any team has to do to be successful. We'll have to wait till then to see if Olsen sticks with the 4-1-3-2 or reverts back to a single-striker, double-pivot system. Until then, United have four points from four games and look every bit the young, talented but inconsistent side.