Sunday was another night to forget for D.C. United, as they fell 4-0 on the road to the Portland Timbers, who ran away in the second half with three goals. There have been plenty of bad nights for the Black-and-Red this season, but the loss was made all the more worse when Steve Birnbaum appeared to be knocked unconscious in the lead-up to the fourth goal and had to be taken off, leaving United with just 10 players to finish the game.
Diego Valeri converted from the penalty spot just before halftime, undoing a decent half of work from United. The wheels then fell off in the second half, as Alvas Powell made it two early on, and Sebastian Blanco scored twice to provide the final scoreline.
After a two week break for international games, head coach Ben Olsen went with Birnbaum and Jalen Robinson as his center back pairing, the first time that duo has ever started a competitive game together. Ian Harkes played alongside Russell Canouse, while Patrick Mullins was again preferred up top as the lone striker.
For most of the first half the Timbers were on top, but their opportunities were limited by United. In the early stages, two blocks from the Black-and-Red, one each from Chris Korb and Robinson, denied the Timbers shots on goal as the Timbers searched for a win to help their playoff cause.
United weren’t having much luck offensively either, as it wasn’t until the 22nd minute that they had their first shot of the game. But Paul Arriola came close to opening his account for the club in the 36th minute, as his shot from the top of the box forced keeper Jeff Attinella into a fine save to keep the game scoreless.
In the 43rd minute, Zoltan Stieber tested Attinella with a powerful long-range strike, with the keeper once again making a strong save. But then the half descended into chaos for United, ending in Valeri’s penalty. A minute after Stieber’s shot, Darren Mattocks nearly put Portland ahead, as he brought down a cross in the box, but then somehow managed to blaze his shot over the goal from close range.
Powell then got in behind United’s defense, and around keeper Steve Clark in the box, only to have a shot blocked by Nick DeLeon. The rebound popped out to David Guzman at the top of the box, but he too was denied a goal, as Birnbaum had taken a position near the goal line to keep the scores level.
Then, in the dying moments of the half, a poor back pass from Korb resulted in Clark fouling Mattocks in the box. Korb’s pass to Clark simply didn’t have enough power on it, allowing Mattocks to run onto it. Clark tried to prevent a shot, but Mattocks opted for a pass, and Clark ended up tripping the Jamaican forward. Despite Clark guessing the right way, Valeri bolstered his MVP candidacy with his 21st goal of the year.
In the second half, United nearly got back into the game before the wheels fell off. A cross in the 49th minute from Arriola found Luciano Acosta, who sent a header towards the goal. Attinella saved at full stretch, but couldn’t hold the ball. Mullins pounced and shot from a tight angle, but Attinella was on his feet fast enough to block the follow-up.
Those misses stung a bit more moments later, as Powell gave the Timbers a two goal lead in the 50th minute. Valeri played out wide to Powell on the right, near United’s box. Powell was able to cut in towards the middle, and with no one from United closing down on him, the right back curled a left-footed shot around Clark from 19 yards.
Powell almost made it three in the 57th minute, only to be denied by a reaction save by Clark. A flick from midfield by Valeri set Powell — who troubled United all night — off to the races, but after getting by Robinson in the box, Powell’s effort was pushed over the goal by Clark.
Portland had to wait just three minutes to turn their looks into a third goal, with Blanco producing the pick of the bunch. A goal kick was collected in United’s half by Valeri, who had time to juggle the ball. He then found Blanco for a one-two, and Valeri’s return pass allowed the Argentinian to curl home a wonderful goal from the top of the box.
United looked unable to break down Portland after that, and it wasn’t for another 20 minutes that the Black-and-Red threatened to find their consolation goal. But substitute Lloyd Sam was denied by a finger tip save by Attinella in the 81st minute, while Canouse also forced a diving save two minutes later after his volley bounced up off the turf before looping towards the upper corner.
Then came the fourth goal in the 86th minute, and the controversy that surrounded it. Jeremy Ebobisse and Birnbaum were chasing down a ball, which the United defender got to first. But Ebobisse came through the back of Birnbaum to get the ball away, while knocking Birnbaum down to the ground. Ebobisse fell on top of Birnbaum, and the defender’s head hit the artificial turf. Birnbaum had clearly been knocked out cold, as he lay motionless on the field.
However, Mark Geiger allowed play to continue, and Blanco eventually got around Robinson and Clark in the box, and slotted into the empty net to finish the scoring at 4-0 in the 86th minute. Birnbaum was checked out by trainers before being removed, leaving the Black-and-Red to finish with ten men.
United, with 32 points from 33 games, finish up their season next week at home, hosting the New York Red Bulls in the team’s final game at RFK Stadium.