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Blerim Dzemaili stars as D.C. United falls 2-0 to the Montreal Impact

The Swiss Designated Player produced a goal and an assist for the highlight reel as United were frustrated in Quebec

Despite taking 19 shots and posting a season-high 83% passing accuracy, D.C. United were defeated 2-0 by the Montreal Impact tonight at Stade Saputo. Swiss Designated Player Blerim Dzemaili, in a man of the match performance, produced a goal of the year candidate in the 21st minute to put his side ahead, and then produced a glorious pass to set up Chris Duvall for a second two minutes later.

Coming off of a US Open Cup loss on Wednesday, and facing a demanding trip to face FC Dallas away in just three days, Ben Olsen unsurprisingly continued to rotate his lineup. Only Travis Worra, Chris Korb, and Ian Harkes stayed in the lineup from the mid-week game, while Lloyd Sam made his return from a brief absence due to hamstring troubles. Up top, Deshorn Brown made his first start for the Black-and-Red.

A wild 10th minute sequence almost gave United a stunning opener. Korb’s long throw-in was flicked on by Steve Birnbaum at the near post. Luciano Acosta was there to attempt an acrobatic volley, but the ball hit Hassoun Camara. United briefly wanted a handball, which referee Jorge Gonzalez appeared to signal but never actually called. Play continued with a scramble for the loose ball, but no one in United’s white away kit could apply the final touch.

Swiss DP Blerim Dzemaili replied with a blast that screwed wide from 24 yards following an awkward touch by Acosta on a throw-in from United. Still, United had gotten off to a decent, if uneventful, road start. Brown nearly set Sam up for a point blank chance early, before the Impact were forced into a last-ditch tackle with the United roles reversed.

Brown mis-hit a nice pass from Acosta in the 19th minute, and it was a miss the Black-and-Red would rue. Montreal took the lead in the 22nd minute on a similar attack to the one United had just wasted. Dzemaili, striding into a gigantic gap between the midfield and defense, hit an absolute rocket from long range that flew into the top corner. No one from United ever got near him to close the shot down.

If that goal seemed like a strike from the clear blue sky, what followed in the 23rd minute was even more of a jolt. Dzemaili again found himself in a pocket of space, and this time - with United trying to collapse onto him to prevent another blast - Dzemaili instead delivered an inch-perfect chip into the box for Chris Duvall, overlapping from left back. Korb at least made the chance difficult, but Duvall’s first-time stab at the ball left Worra with no chance to do anything but watch it roll just inside the far post to make it 2-0.

United had much of the ball in the minutes that followed, but it was Worra who had to make the next big save. Ballou Tabla’s completely mis-hit cross ended up becoming a dangerous effort on goal, and Worra had to backpedal to palm the ball over the bar.

Montreal probably should have made it 3-0 after being caught in transition. Dzemaili spread play wide right for Dominic Oduro, and the Impact suddenly had a 2v1. Oduro picked out Tabla’s run, but his pass across for the youngster was badly over-hit, and United escaped without further damage.

United attacks routinely ended in shots (they finished the half with 12), but poor execution meant that Evan Bush didn’t have to make a single save in the Impact goal. United nearly got themselves back within one with the final play of the half, but Kemp’s free kick - easily the best service D.C. managed up to that point - to the near post was glanced high by Harkes, who had gotten free to attack the ball.

The Black-and-Red came out of the locker room with high intensity, winning numerous second balls, but their execution in the final third was still not sharp. A Sam cross was headed away by Donadel, while a good sequence moments later ended with a sloppy pass from Brown. Acosta then had Laurent Ciman 1v1, but the Belgian defender easily won the ball.

Lamar Neagle came in for Brown in the 54th minute as United looked to boost their chances going forward. The veteran attacker nearly blocked a Bush clearance into the goal in the 59th minute, but the ball caromed wide of the frame and Montreal managed to recover.

At the other end, Dzemaili adroitly shuttled the ball to the right after finding a pocket of space, but Oduro blasted it into the supporters behind the goal despite being in alone with Worra. That wasn’t enough of a wake-up call, as Matteo Mancosu sliced a promising shot wide in the 62nd minute after substitute Michael Salazar slashed inside to set him up.

Nyarko intercepted a Montreal pass and sparked what looked like a promising 66th minute break forward. He was left with a difficult task - picking out Acosta with a crossfield pass over several defenders - but met it perfectly. Perhaps summing up United’s day, though, Acosta’s attempted first touch may not have ever made contact, and the pass skipped out for a goal kick.

Montreal again nearly made it 3-0 on the counter, and Dzemaili was central yet again. Marcelo held him off twice inside the box, but Dzemaili was not to be denied, eventually spinning to hook a pass back into the goalmouth. The ball popped loose for Mancosu, who should have done better than fire wide in the 70th minute.

Olsen made his final moves, adding Chris Odoi-Atsem for Korb and bringing Jose Ortiz in for Sam, but in truth United had little life no matter what subs and tactical shuffling was attempted. The Impact did their best to knock the ball around and rob the visitors of any momentum, with an Acosta shot in the 77th minute breaking United out of a very flat 15 minute span.

That chance appeared to spark something in the diminutive Argentine, who cracked the post in the 79th minute following some great work. Acosta started on the far touchline, dribbling away from Duvall and then faking Marco Donadel to the ground. Acosta’s next touch saw the ball run away, but some fortunate caroms and hard work saw him regain possession in the box. Acosta opted for power, beating Bush easily but seeing his shot hit the woodwork and bounce clear.

However, that burst of life brought a reaction from Montreal, who slowed things back down. In the end, they only created one real look in the last ten-plus minutes: Ortiz had a free header with virtually the final play of the game, but despite a precise ball into the box from Acosta, the Costa Rican could only head right at Bush.

The loss leaves United (5W-3D-10L) all alone at the bottom of the Eastern Conference, and looking likely to see the six point gap between them and a playoff spot grow before the night is through. Their grueling early summer slate concludes Tuesday night, with a tough match at FC Dallas on July 4th.