D.C. United's abysmal start to the 2013 season hit a new low at Crew Stadium tonight, where the Black-and-Red gave up three avoidable goals in the first half en route to a 3-0 defeat. Dominic Oduro, Josh Williams, and Federico Higuain - from the penalty spot - got on the scoresheet for the Crew in a game that was delayed for 50 minutes before kickoff due to a scoreboard fire.
That's right, a scoreboard fire. Like, the scoreboard had flames coming out of it. The south end of Crew Stadium had to be evacuated, which eventually meant United's traveling support being moved elsewhere as the fire department put out the blaze and dealt with the burnt chunks of metal, plastic, and whatever else scoreboards are made of.
Sadly for United, the game was allowed to be played. Despite the delay, both teams embraced a high-tempo game that promised entertainment. The Crew would capitalize first through Oduro, who was left with a tap-in after Jairo Arrieta did most of the heavy lifting. Arrieta artfully controlled Eddie Gaven's cross from the left before dodging Brandon McDonald's panicky lunge. The Costa Rica international then fired a low cross that found the surging Oduro, who got the jump on Daniel Woolard to finish with ease.
After a brief dispute between the benches - sparked by Agustin Viana asking to be allowed back onto the field after receiving treatment for an injury, only to immediately sit himself back down again - United was hit with some bad luck. Kyle Porter's corner ended up at the feet of Marcos Sanchez, whose powerful shot was blocked by a Crew defender. The rebound went outside the box to Raphael Augusto, who shuttled the ball to Chris Korb. Korb's ball back into the box found Perry Kitchen, who did well to hold off his marker and head down past Andy Gruenebaum.
However, just like in the previous meeting between these clubs, United had the goal controversially called back. Initially, it appeared that the problem was Dejan Jakovic and Lionard Pajoy being offside when the ball came back in, which would have been a huge issue given that they were pretty passive on the play. However, the club was informed that the referee had called a foul on Kitchen, who did appear to be grabbing his marker. It appeared that Kitchen was being grabbed as well, but referee Sorin Stoica - who struggled all night and got in the way of passing plays for both teams several times - took a hard line.
United was still having one of their best patches of the game when the Crew made it 2-0. Following a United corner kick, Columbus produced a dangerous counter that was defused by Augusto, who managed to gain position on Oduro just in time to concede a corner kick. From the corner, McDonald was simply beaten all ends up by Josh Williams, who scuffed his volley but got just enough on it that it crept in at the back post. Through traffic, Bill Hamid saw it late and couldn't quite keep it from bouncing in at the back post.
Speaking of posts, Porter would thump a shot off the woodwork following a well-worked break. Dwayne De Rosario led the charge before giving Porter a perfect pass on the right side of the box. Porter had Gruenebaum leaning the wrong way, but the Crew GK recovered well to graze the ball just enough to prevent a goal.
The nadir of our season to this point was still to come. In stoppage time of the first half, Arrieta played the ball out of the corner for the onrushing Gaven. McDonald had been marking Arrieta, but let him get into the area first. The run from Arrieta allowed Gaven to backheel a pass rather than deal with being boxed in along the endline. McDonald would then compound the error of letting Arrieta get on the wrong side of him by clipping his heels. While Arrieta went down quite easily, it was still an easy call for Stoica. Higuain sent Hamid the wrong way with his spot kick, and despite creating chances and doing a lot of things at least adequately, United was down 3-0.
Following a halftime substitution - Ethan White coming in for McDonald, who was culpable on all three goals - United would go on to create plenty of chances in the second half. I say "create" and not "convert" because the Black-and-Red never found a way past Gruenebaum. Pajoy provided his usual mix of at least one or two genuinely skillful moments - tonight, a backheel to tee up De Ro and a stoppage-time free kick that smacked off the crossbar - with the kind of stuff he's more generally known for (wasting a brilliant long pass by Porter by shooting right at Gruenebaum, for example). De Ro and Sanchez both had some flashes of quality, but in the end the finish was lacking.
In the end, despite an attacking display that deserved at least some kind of reward - this was easily our sharpest attacking performance of 2013, not that the competition for the honor is very strong - United found a way to lose this game. Columbus deserves some credit for the number of shots they blocked and for the incisive play they got out of Arrieta up front, but United made colossal errors on all three goals and then couldn't put the ball in the back of the net despite creating enough chances to at least make it interesting in the second half.
The optimist in me wants to point out that United didn't give up on each other or on the game, and that Porter is making a clear push to hold onto his starting job no matter who is healthy. Korb jumped into the attack more tonight than he has all season. White did well enough in his first minutes in forever.
All of that is true, but none of it particularly matters. Especially in the last two games, United has found a way to completely destroy any hope of getting a result. Sure there has been some bad luck, but United's recent play is a great argument for the old "you make your own luck" cliche.