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D.C. United falls apart after halftime in 3-1 loss to Columbus Crew

An early Paul Arriola goal wasn’t enough for a fatigued United, who conceded twice after the break

MLS: Columbus Crew SC at D.C. United Scott Taetsch-USA TODAY Sports

D.C. United got the fast start they needed against the Columbus Crew, but ran out of gas in a 3-1 loss that did major damage to their MLS playoff hopes. Paul Arriola’s early goal seemed to set United up well, but Lucas Zelarayán’s brace, coupled with a breakaway goal for Pedro Santos, condemned United to a costly defeat.

Hernán Losada, facing his side’s fifth game in 14 days, made just three changes to the side that held on grimly to a 1-0 win over the Red Bulls three days ago. Tony Alfaro, Felipe Martins, and Drew Skundrich stepped in for Russell Canouse, Nigel Robertha, and the injured Kevin Paredes.

Despite that, the traditional furious start was still in the cards, with the Black-and-Red jumping out to a 3rd minute lead. Columbus failed to close down Felipe at midfield, and the Brazilian smartly clipped a ball over their back line and into space for Arriola, who chased it down before firing a left-footed laser past Eloy Room for his sixth goal of the season.

Columbus had a response though, with Pedro Santos slashing in behind the United back three only for Bill Hamid to fight off his powerful 22nd minute effort. 11 minutes later, a long ball found Miguel Berry, whose near-post shot was struck with venom only to crash off of Hamid’s right leg.

The Crew, who were able to lure United to over-commit one way before switching play into the open space fairly regularly, ended up taking seven straight shots before Julian Gressel’s audacious 40th minute bid to lob Room about 50 yards from goal floated just a bit too high.

United were nearly able to get into halftime with the lead, only for Lucas Zelarayán to manufacture an equalizer in the 45th minute. A Crew counter ended with him one-on-one with Alfaro, and the Argentine playmaker put the United man in the spin cycle. Alfaro’s tackle attempt chopped Zelarayán down, with referee Drew Fischer having no choice but to give a penalty kick that the Columbus number 10 fired past Hamid.

United made an aggressive halftime substitution, bringing Adrien Perez in for Alfaro at left wingback, but Pedro Santos crushed a shot off the crossbar in the early going as the Black-and-Red continued to look a bit unsettled. Ola Kamara showed some wonderful skill to control a pass in the 52nd minute and create a golden chance, but skipped his shot wide with just Room to beat.

The game began flowing from end-to-end, with D.C. not turning multiple threats into a genuine chance while Hamid denied Berry again as Columbus went long to counter. That pattern ended up being a problem as the Crew took the lead in the 68th minute. Darlington Nagbe’s scooped pass to the left for Santos wasn’t dangerous, but Andy Najar went for the interception rather than simply containing the winger. He didn’t get there, and Santos turned a free run at goal into a clever chipped finish past Hamid.

United offered a brief pushback, with Ramón Ábila testing Room moments after coming off the bench, but Columbus were still in control, expanding their lead in the 76th minute. Donovan Pines misplaced a pass on the edge of the box, and Berry tracked it down before teeing up Zelarayán for an absolute bomb from 24 yards.

United gamely tried to fight their way back into the game, but simply lacked the energy levels to break through as Columbus got into their defensive shape and killed the clock whenever possible, sealing a loss that is a bitter blow for the Black-and-Red’s playoff hopes. The loss leaves United (13W-5D-15L, 44 points) on the brink of elimination from the playoff race. They face a must-win trip to Toronto on Decision Day, with kickoff coming at 3:30pm, and will need help in the form of losses for the Red Bulls, Orlando, and/or Atlanta to stay alive.

Box Score

MLS Regular Season - Game 33
D.C. United 1 (Arriola 3)
Columbus Crew 3 (Zelarayán 45pen, 76; Santos 66)

DCU (343): Bill Hamid; Andy Najar, Steven Birnbaum (C), Donovan Pines; Julian Gressel (Chris Odoi-Atsem 61), Felipe Martins, Junior Moreno (Ramón Ábila 68), Tony Alfaro (Adrien Perez 46); Paul Arriola (Yordy Reyna 61), Ola Kamara (Nigel Robertha 68), Drew Skundrich

Crew (4231): Eloy Room; Harrison Afful (Steven Moreira 73), Jonathan Mensah (C), Josh Williams, Milton Valenzuela; Liam Fraser (Marlon Hairston 72), Darlington Nagbe; Derrick Etienne Jr. (Bradley Wright-Phillips 83), Lucas Zelarayán (Luis Díaz 83), Pedro Santos; Miguel Berry

DCU - Arriola 32, Felipe 79
Crew - Valenzuela 42