Despite having the better of a decent portion of the game, D.C. United could not keep pace with the Columbus Crew, who extended their unbeaten run to eight games by downing the Black-and-Red 2-0. Goals from Josh Williams and Justin Meram midway through each half consigned United to defeat. The result nearly assures that United will finish at the bottom of MLS’s Eastern Conference, as they sit four points adrift with just two games to play.
Ben Olsen, after watching his charges pick up four points in two games this week, made five changes. Deshorn Brown came in for Patrick Mullins up front, while Lloyd Sam and Ian Harkes stepped into the midfield for Zoltan Stieber and Marcelo Sarvas. Sean Franklin and Jalen Robinson replaced Nick DeLeon and Steve Birnbaum in the back four, while Bill Hamid remained out with a back injury.
The home side, motivated by the prospect of clinching a playoff spot with a win, started brightly. A 3rd minute corner was just barely pushed away by Steve Clark, back at the venue where he played for three seasons. Ola Kamara teed Federico Higuain for a blast just over the bar in the 5th minute, before new Portuguese DP Pedro Santos forced Clark into a save on a heavy shot from 20 yards six minutes later.
Columbus was pinning United back, carving out their best chance yet in the 13th minute. A clever one-two between Kamara and Justin Meram sent the Norwegian striker behind Kofi Opare, but Clark came out quickly to deny Kamara’s angled bid.
All the pressure seemed bound to pay off, and from the resulting corner the Crew got out in front. It was a familiar problem for United, as Higuain’s outswinger to the back post found Opare and Sean Franklin colliding as they attempted to mark both Jonathan Mensah and Josh Williams. Williams stepped back from the group, giving himself a free header that he tucked into the lower corner in the 14th minute.
The Black-and-Red were not so much playing poorly as simply not able to match the sharp start from the Crew, but they finally mounted a solid attack in the 17th minute. Luciano Acosta drifted out to the left touchline before combining smartly with Lloyd Sam. The veteran winger knifed through the defense before squaring to Brown, whose one-timer forced Zack Steffen into a kick save.
The game became more even for the next few minutes, though the Crew thought they’d taken a 2-0 lead in the 29th minute. However, replays confirmed that Opare’s decision to step up at the last moment caught both Kamara and Pedro Santos offside, nullifying the eventual finish from Santos.
At the other end, Sam couldn’t quite reach Paul Arriola’s header back across the goalmouth after Chris Korb’s cross ramped up off of Harrison Afful in the 34th minute. That followed a spell in which United began making a concerted effort to step high and press the Crew in their own end.
That pressure started to give United an edge in the flow of the game, though Crew defenders managed to do just barely enough to prevent the Black-and-Red from getting shots away. Still, a foul won by Korb out on the left in the 42nd minute saw Sam’s free kick nodded just wide by Opare at the back post. About a minute later, Arriola was caught in two minds about whether to head on goal or back across, instead sending a cushioned header a yard wide.
A dangerous counter sparked by an Opare block in the 51st minute nearly got the visitors level. D.C. broke forward on a four-on-four break, with Arriola slipping Brown in behind the sprinting Columbus defense. Brown confidently charged onto the ball before firing a low shot that Steffen did very well to barely tip around the post.
At the other end, Clark spilled a shot that initially looked straightforward, but Opare bailed him out by pushing the ball behind for a corner before any lurking Crew players could finish the chance off.
Unfortunately for United, the next Crew move forward ended with a Justin Meram golazo in the 56th minute. A Columbus build-up moved from right to left across the top of United’s box before finding its way to the US-born Iraq international. Meram set himself up for a right-footed effort before producing an unstoppable curling shot that kissed the woodwork before settling into the back of the net.
Meram’s strike seemed to boost Columbus, who had another goal called back as Kamara was again caught offside. United needed a solid 10 minutes to regain their footing while the Crew set themselves up more to manage their lead than go for further tallies.
Kamara went close again on a counter in the 86th minute, but by and large the final stages consisted of Crew possession while United’s tired legs left them unable to sustain enough pressure on the ball to disrupt that tactic. In the end, Columbus were able to prevent United from mounting any real bid for a second straight late comeback.
United is off this week due to the return of World Cup qualifying. They’ll be back in action on October 15th with a trip west to face the Portland Timbers.