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Mistakes costly as D.C. United sees early lead vanish in loss at Real Salt Lake

A 5 minute first half nightmare saw United lose a lead, lose Mora to a red card, and fall behind

D.C. United once again failed to capitalize on an early lead, as they fell 3-2 on Saturday night to Real Salt Lake. Paul Arriola netted United’s opener in the 10th minute, but the wheels fell off entirely for United when Corey Baird equalized in the 21st minute. Left back Joseph Mora was sent off moments later for a stomp on Jefferson Savarino. And two minutes after that, the Claret and Cobalt took the lead from a Albert Rusnak goal.

Savarino added a third goal for Salt Lake early in the second half, before Steve Birnbaum gave United late hope with a goal in the 83rd minute. However, when RSL failed to shut the game down defensively, United went surprisingly close from completing a two-goal comeback.

Head coach Ben Olsen made several changes to the lineup that lost two weeks ago to the Philadelphia Union. The biggest change was a recall for Arriola after his red card suspension, with Yamil Asad surprisingily benched. However, Arriola played in a central role, with Ulises Segura moved out to the right. The other, more predictable change was the reintroduction of Darren Mattocks, taking the place of Patrick Mullins as the lone striker.

Much like the previous two games, the Black-and-Red got off to a good start in the game. There were three set pieces early on, all delivered by Zoltan Stieber. None amounted to much, but it showed United’s intent for the night. At the other end, Damir Kreilach tested Steve Clark in the 6th minute, but the keeper got down quickly to push the shot out for a corner.

United’s fourth set piece came in the 10th minute, and this time, it resulted in Arriola netting his first goal on the season. United ran a similar play to one of their early corner kicks, crowding the near post. Arriola stood outside the box, appearing to not be part of the play. But as Stieber sent the ball into the box, Arriola made his move, and was unmarked in the middle as he slotted a left-footed volley home for a 1-0 lead.

RSL had a pair of shots in the minutes that followed, before the moments that defined the game. In the 20th minute. Luciano Acosta got the ball into the box along the endline, creating space for himself. The playmaker lifted a cross to the back post, where Stieber collected before blasting a shot that was well-saved by Nick Rimando.

Almost immediately, RSL was down at the other end, and had the ball in the back of the net for a 21st minute equalizer. A switch of play got the ball out wide on the left for Joao Plata. With time and space, Plata lifted a ball into the box, where Baird slipped in behind the inattentive Mora, who fell trying to catch up. Free in the box, Baird’s diving header bounced past Clark from 8 yards out.

Three minutes later, a video review saw Mora sent off. Mora was initially given a yellow card for a tackle on Savarino in midfield. But the play was reviewed, and it was clear from replays that Mora put his studs into on the back of Savarino’s leg, which earned the Costa Rican his marching orders in the 24th minute.

United couldn’t even get a sub on in place of Mora before they gave up the go-ahead goal in the 26th minute. RSL retained possession in the box, with Savarino popping the ball back to Brooks Lennon. Lennon then slid a pass towards Rusnak, who sent a dart through traffic to give Real a 2-1 lead over the undermanned Black-and-Red.

Oniel Fisher was brought on for Acosta after the goal, with United moving to a 4-4-1 formation. United didn’t do much to threaten for the rest of the half, but had to survive a Baird shot in the 37th minute, after Savarino danced around Fisher in the box. Chris Durkin dove in to block the shot, allowing United to get into the half down just a goal.

It would have been easy to assume that the Claret and Cobalt would wrap up proceedings without much fuss, but that was not exactly the case. In the 54th minute, Mattocks took down a long ball from Segura, and got around Justen Glad in the box. There wasn’t much angle to shoot from, but Mattocks nearly made it work, only to be denied by Rimando.

Moments later, United were once again on the attack, but as it died out, Fisher lost possession in midfield, and RSL quickly broke the other way. Rusnak weighted a pass through United’s back line for Savarino, who raced onto the ball in the box in the space vacated by Fisher, and then clipped the ball over a sprawling Clark in the 56th minute for a 3-1 lead.

Mattocks narrowly missed on a couple of opportunities after that goal, as Salt Lake continued to struggle to shut the game down. Mattocks couldn’t connect on a header from a cross by Nick DeLeon, and then tried to bring down a cross from Stieber in the box, but the touch got away from him.

Olsen brought on Bruno Miranda and Asad for Stieber and Segura, as United continued to probe for a way back into the game. That lifeline came in the 83rd minute, as Birnbaum tallied his first goal of the season. Having stayed forward from a set piece, Birnbaum got to DeLeon’s bouncing cross in the box, muscling past Lennon to a header to give a desperate United a chance at a point.

An equalizer was almost there moments later, as DeLeon collected a loose ball in the box from a free kick from midfield. DeLeon laid the ball back for Miranda, but the shot amid the scramble was blocked out for a corner.

Former United man Luis Silva entered late as a sub, and had a chance to make it four in the 88th minute only for Clark to save his audacious bicycle kick attempt.

Late into stoppage time, Clark raced forward as United had one last opportunity from a corner kick, but Rimando punched it away despite colliding with United’s goalkeeper on what turned out to be the final play of the game.

United, with five points from eight games, return to West next week when they take on the San Jose Earthquakes.