D.C. United was hoping to build on last week’s comeback draw, but against a high-flying Columbus Crew SC, they instead got a familiar result. The Crew won 3-1 at Mapfre Stadium, extending United’s winless streak in the state of Ohio to 11 games over the last decade. Yamil Asad briefly equalized for United, but goals from Milton Valenzuela, Ricardo Clark, and Pedro Santos handed Columbus the full three points.
Facing several absences due to international call-ups and an injury to Junior Moreno, Ben Olsen made three changes to the team that tied Houston last weekend. Chris Durkin got his first-ever MLS start in the midfield, alongside fellow homegrown product Ian Harkes (who started for the first time in 2018). Paul Arriola, after helping spark last week’s comeback, returned to the lineup on the right flank, replacing Zoltan Stieber. With all the absences, United had just six of the customary seven available substitutes.
United drew a high line of contention from the opening moments, pressuring the Crew deep into the Columbus half, forcing the home side into giveaways and long balls. However, the game’s first real chance came via very light pressure. In the 15th minute, a stray pass from Jonathan Mensah found its way to Arriola, who smartly played Darren Mattocks in behind immediately. The Jamaican took a long first touch to give himself distance from Lalas Abubakar, but the ball ran on too long, and Crew goalkeeper Jon Kempin — in for USMNT call-up Zack Steffen — arrived just in time to prevent a shot.
The Crew went just as close four minutes later, with a short corner picking out Gyasi Zardes at the near post. Storming in at full speed, Zardes glanced the ball just barely wide of David Ousted’s left-hand post.
A couple of small mistakes from Joseph Mora were punished quickly in the 20th minute, giving Columbus a 1-0 lead. First, the Costa Rican left back was a bit overzealous in his pressure, allowing the Crew to launch an attack into the space behind him. Then, as the Columbus throw-in was deflected into his direction, he attempted to trap the ball in an awkward position. It didn’t come off, and Pedro Santos combined with Federico Higuain, with the latter crossing for Milton Valenzuela, whose shot while slipping bounced into the lower corner.
United stuck to their guns, continuing to pass out of the back and high press, but a choice to mix things up panned out in the 30th minute. A long ball was glanced on awkwardly by Abubakar, rolling right to the onrushing Luciano Acosta, who carried the ball on the right until getting to the edge of the box. Acosta feinted like he’d try to beat them on the dribble before chopping a pass back across the area to Yamil Asad, who in acres of space fired a shot into the upper corner, leaving Kempin with no chance to make a stop.
A back-and-forth game continued, with Columbus re-taking the lead 10 minutes later. Higuain fired a corner at the near post, where Ricardo Clark knifed in unmarked to glance a looping header over the crowd, over Ousted, and just barely in at the back post.
If that was frustrating from United, what followed just 2 minutes later was infuriating. Abubakar, already on a yellow card, dove in with a two-footed lunge on Acosta near the endline. Referee Drew Fischer inexplicably made no call despite having a clear look at the play, and Columbus pounced to break out on the counter. Artur and Higuain combined to free Cristian Martinez flying down the left flank. The Panamanian winger’s cross evaded DeLeon, Birnbaum, and Brillant by a matter of inches before finding Pedro Santos wide open for a tap-in at the back post.
United opted to make a change at halftime, bringing Patrick Mullins in up front for Mattocks — who needed a moment midway through the half after a collision with Mensah — during the interval. The first look of the half went to Columbus, though, with Higuain’s powerful, angled free kick in the 48th minute forcing Ousted into a tricky save.
Ousted reacted well to slide across and block a ferocious close-range shot from Martinez on the hour mark, and then the Crew nearly scored from the resulting corner kick. Again it was a near post delivery, this time with Zardes nodding the ball off the crossbar before Martinez was flagged offside in trying to put the rebound away. Barely two minutes later, the issue came up again, with Frederic Brillant’s attempt to win a near-post header flicking up and off the top of the crossbar before bouncing to safety.
Olsen eventually opted for a re-shuffle after a long spell without a shot from D.C., bringing Chris Odoi-Atsem in at right back for his first action in 2018. DeLeon moved to the left wing, with Asad joining Acosta and Durkin in central midfield as Harkes was removed.
Nothing really worked, though, as Mullins was virtually anonymous and Columbus made United chase ghosts for long spells in a dominant second half. Per Opta, Odoi-Atsem’s stoppage time header back across goal that Kempin claimed was United’s first shot in a nearly 40 minute span, the result of the Crew’s total control of proceedings.
Next week, United will be back on the road with a trip to play Sporting Kansas City on March 31st at 8:30pm Eastern.