A bad week for D.C. United got even worse on Saturday night, as the Black-and-Red turned an abject first half performance into a 3-1 defeat to the Houston Dynamo. United, who gave away a three goal lead on Wednesday night against the Seattle Sounders, conceded three goals - on their first three shots on goal - in the first 17 minutes against Houston.
United’s deficiencies at defending set pieces popped up early, as Andrew Wenger headed home a 6th minute corner to give the Dynamo the lead. Mauro Manotas and Memo Rodriguez then scored two minutes apart in the 15th and 17th minutes, which essentially sealed United’s fifth loss at RFK Stadium this year.
Bobby Boswell scored in the 62nd minute, but United couldn’t manage the same kind of heroics that they were on the wrong side of on Wednesday, despite a bombardment of crosses over the final minutes.
After the midweek debacle against the Seattle Sounders, head coach Ben Olsen made four changes to the starting lineup. Marcelo Sarvas was suspended for yellow card accumulation, while Steve Birnbaum, Sean Franklin, and Lloyd Sam were dropped to the bench. In their places were Jared Jeffrey, Bobby Boswell, Chris Korb, and Sebastien Le Toux.
After the demoralizing 4-3 loss to the Sounders on Wednesday, United got started on the wrong foot against the Dynamo. Taylor Kemp ushered a cross out for a corner, possibly due to a lack of communication. Alex whipped in an in-swinging corner, and Wenger simply beat Ian Harkes in the air to head home his second goal of the season.
Deshorn Brown, once again given a start up top with Patrick Mullins still not available, had a chance in the 14th minute to get back into the game. Racing onto a header from Patrick Nyarko, Brown held off a challenge from Leonardo, but shot right at keeper Tyler Deric from the top of the box.
That missed opportunity especially hurt moments later, when Manotas made it two for Houston. Manotas checked back to win a header on a long ball played forward, with Alex quick to collect. Alex then got around Jeffrey and Boswell in the box and clipped the ball in front of goal, where Manotas had continued his run to tap home for the 2-0 lead in the 15th minute.
United’s misery was compounded in the 17th minute, with Alex getting a third assist. A backheel in the box from Wenger played Alex into space. With no one quick enough to close him down, Alex lifted a cross into the box where Rodriguez peeled a run away from two defenders, rising up high to head home Houston’s third goal on just three shots.
The damage had already been done, as Houston were content to sit back the rest of the half and absorb pressure. A wayward effort from Juan Cabezas was their only other shot attempt before halftime.
Luciano Acosta tested Deric in the 20th minute, but a rising shot from inside the box was pushed over the goal by the keeper. Then, in the 27th minute, Brown beat Deric with a shot from a pass by Nyarko, but his goal-bound effort was cleared off the line by Ricardo Clark. United’s last chance of the half came in stoppage time, but Harkes’ shot was blocked away after a scramble in the box.
Olsen introduced Nick DeLeon for Le Toux at halftime, hoping for a change in fortunes. But as United pushed forward, they were inevitably leaving space for Houston to counter. Travis Worra made a save on Rodriguez in the 48th minute, before Alex hit the post from the top of the box, after Manotas turned creator in the 53rd minute.
Lloyd Sam’s entrance into the game helped United’s attack somewhat, as Nyarko had a header blocked by AJ DeLaGarza in the 58th minute. The rebound eventually fell to Acosta in the box, but the Argentine’s shot bounced just wide of the goal, failing to test Deric from a promising spot.
United’s lifeline finally came in the 62nd minute, when Boswell scored his first goal of the season and the first headed goal United has managed in 2017. Once again, it was Sam who provided the cross into the box, with Boswell - who stayed forward from a long throw - worked himself free in the box to head past his former team.
As United pushed forward to find a second goal though, the openings within Houston’s defense went missing. Desperate for a season-altering comeback, United struggled to break down a Houston team who proved capable of what United wasn’t on Wednesday, holding onto a big lead on the road.
Clark, known his long range shot, had a look in the 70th minute from about 30 yards out. But Worra, who had sight of the shot the entire way, was able to make a save at stretch.
Birnbaum then came on for Boswell in the 75th minute, playing up top as a target forward. Kofi Opare, Kemp, and DeLeon comprised the back line, and did enough to keep United within two goals. But Birnbaum’s introduction did little in the way of improving United’s chances of scoring, partially due to Wilmer Cabrera’s choice to remove striker Manotas for center back Jalil Anibaba.
United, with 18 points from 21 games, return to action next Saturday, when they head west to take on Minnesota United for the first time ever.