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Set pieces haunt D.C. United yet again in 3-0 loss at Columbus Crew

An even game on most fronts was decided by United conceding two more goals from dead balls

MLS: D.C. United at Columbus Crew SC Joseph Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

D.C. United saw some recent progress come to a shuddering halt tonight as they fell to a 3-0 defeat against the Columbus Crew. Set piece goals conceded before and after halftime — the sixth and seventh such goals United has coughed up in just eight games this year — did the damage in Ohio, with Pedro Santos and Darlington Nagbe both offering up highlight-reel goals for the hosts.

Both sides had good early looks, with Derrick Etienne Jr. wasting a golden chance at the back post in the 4th minute, while Julian Gressel’s sneaky shot from an angle nearly trickled in just two minutes later. Steven Birnbaum had a better look in the 14th minute, as Gressel’s corner was knocked into his path, but the captain didn’t get good purchase on his shot.

The visitors went even closer in the 20th minute, with Edison Flores waiting for his opening before slipping a sublime ball in behind the defense for Ola Kamara. Kamara arrived just before Jonathan Mensah and Eloy Room, poking the ball past the goalkeeper, only for it to hit the foot of the post and rebound right to Room.

United’s positive early start was undone as the Crew broke a 388-minute scoreless run in league play thanks to a Pedro Santos free kick. United weren’t too pleased that referee Timothy Ford awarded Miguel Berry a free kick just outside the box, but with Jon Kempin expecting Santos to try to curl the ball over his wall, the Portuguese veteran went for power, firing the ball to the back post as Kempin leaned the other way to give Columbus a 28th minute lead.

The Black-and-Red saw plenty of possession following the goal, but did little with it, and the Crew took a 2-0 lead just before halftime. A long ball from Josh Williams, who was not adequately pressured, found Etienne’s run slashing in off the wing. The timing was close enough that kickoff was briefly delayed for a VAR check, but Etienne’s excellent first touch and deft finish past Kempin stood without Ford even having to take a look at the monitor.

D.C.’s high press was more engaged coming out of the locker room, but the first serious chance still came inside their box, with Tony Alfaro doing very well to block an Aidan Morris shot in the 53rd minute.

Chad Ashton brought Sofiane Djeffal and Michael Estrada in on the hour mark looking to shake something loose, and the rookie midfielder nearly had an instant answer. Less than a minute after entering the game, he picked Brad Smith’s run out from deep, and the Australian wingback’s one-time pass across the goalmouth was just barely out of reach for Russell Canouse.

United had sprung to life. Smith teed Gressel up for another chance in the 63rd minute, after Alfaro served a good ball over the top, but Gressel’s finish from 14 yards was badly sliced over the bar. Taxi Fountas then tried an audacious 30-yard effort in the 65th minute, but with Room scrambling, the ball flew wide by a foot.

However, any hopes of a United comeback were squelched in the 75th minute. The Black-and-Red’s set piece woes continued, as they headed a Columbus corner away, but only as far as Darlington Nagbe. No one in black closed the ball, and Nagbe unleashed a seeing-eye volley through traffic and past an unsighted Kempin, making it 3-0.

United should have surely made it 3-1 a minute after the goal, with Smith laying a beautiful ball across the box that Estrada and Gressel agonizingly both failed to get a foot on.

Despite plenty of service into the box, that was United’s last good look, and in fact Nagbe nearly gave himself a brace on a well-worked late counter.

The loss sees the Crew leapfrog United (3W-0D-5). The Black-and-Red return to the District for a home game next Saturday, as they host the Houston Dynamo on May 7.


Box Score

MLS Regular Season - Game 8
Columbus Crew SC 3 (Santos 28, Etienne 43, Nagbe 75)
D.C. United 0

Lineups:
Columbus (433): Eloy Room; Steven Moreira (Marlon Hairston 17), Jonathan Mensah (C), Josh Williams, Pedro Santos; Aidan Morris, Artur, Darlington Nagbe; James Igbekeme, Miguel Berry (Lucas Zelarayán 71), Derrick Etienne Jr. (Yaw Yeboah 82)

DCU (3421): Jon Kempin; Brendan Hines-Ike, Steven Birnbaum (C), Tony Alfaro; Julian Gressel, Russell Canouse (Drew Skundrich 82), Chris Durkin (Sofiane Djeffal 60), Brad Smith; Edison Flores (Jackson Hopkins 78), Taxiarchis Fountas (Griffin Yow 78); Ola Kamara (Michael Estrada 60)

Bookings:
Columbus - None
DCU - Hines-Ike 36, Birnbaum 46+