Hard times hit United after Open Cup setback

By Brian Westfall, Soccer Editor

MLS Features Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - D.C. United hit rock bottom Wednesday. The most storied franchise in Major League Soccer history was already on the verge of their worst season in history, and it got even worse with their U.S. Open Cup exit.

That D.C. United lost again was not a surprise - that's what they've done this year. How United lost, interim manager Ben Olsen said after a 2-1, extra- time loss to the Columbus Crew was "cruel."

United took a one-goal lead into the final minutes of the Open Cup semifinals, holding onto an early lead despite an ejection of goal scorer Pablo Hernandez, when Marc Burch scored into his own net with one minute left in regulation.

Columbus added a second goal eight minutes into extra time, and United dropped out of the competition just seconds short of another finals appearance. It was a tough loss, would have been for any team, but even more so for this one.

United has won four games this year in MLS through 22 matches. Yes, four. That equals the number of championships the team has won in league's first 14 years in existence.

"This season has been abysmal," United's Santino Quaranta said, "and [the Open Cup] was the only thing we had going for us."

Ben Olsen
United has won four games this year in MLS through 22 matches.
Until the last minute Wednesday night.

Burch's own goal erased a chance for D.C. to return to the U.S. Open Cup final for the third straight year. The last two years, the once-proud club failed to make the MLS playoffs, but thrived in the Open Cup tournament.

United won the U.S. Open Cup two seasons ago, and lost in the final to Seattle Sounders FC last year. Now, United will watch Seattle defend its title against Columbus next month.

D.C. will have to turn its focus solely to MLS, where over the last eight games of the season, it will try to avoid accumulating a number of records no team wants.

United, 4-14-3, could overtake the 2001 Tampa Bay Mutiny for the worst year in league history if it loses its last eight games. Tampa Bay went 4-23-3 and had a .185 winning percentage. D.C. could finish with a .183 winning percentage.

United has been shut out 14 times in league play, just one off the record. With 15 goals so far in the league - or only two more than MLS scoring leader Edson Buddle of the Los Angeles Galaxy - D.C. needs 10 goals to avoid the lowest sum ever in a single-season.

"We'll keep pushing, somehow regroup," Olsen said Wednesday, "then start again on the weekend."

United returns to MLS action Saturday against Columbus, then visits Toronto FC and Los Angeles. Houston, Colorado, San Jose, Chicago and another game against Toronto wraps up the schedule.

Olsen, who helped United to its MLS Cup titles in 1998 and 2004, can only hope to start building the foundation for the team's next boss. Olsen replaced Curt Onalfo earlier this season, but isn't considered a candidate for the full-time job.

D.C.'s fall, which has happened over the last few seasons, can be traced to a number of bad roster decisions, including trading ex-MLS Defender of the Year Bobby Boswell to Houston in 2007.

Boswell was shipped out for backup goalie Zach Wells (who retired in 2009 when he was just 29), and then the signings of five South Americans last offseason, including Marcelo Gallardo, failed to produce much for the club. None of those players are still in D.C.

Before this season, United traded Brazilian midfielder Fred, a first-round pick and allocation money to the Philadelphia Union to acquire the right to ex-D.C. goalie Troy Perkins, who returned to the league following a stint in Europe.

Perkins has allowed nearly two goals a game in 15 starts and lost his starting spot to rookie Bill Hamid.

After reaching the MLS Cup in the first four years the league existed and with wins in three of those finals, United hit a tough stretch from 2000-2002. D.C. returned to the playoffs for the following five seasons, meaning there is some hope the current three-year slide is just another rough patch.

However, United's attendance has slipped below 15,000 for the first time ever. It now seems that the word "TRADITION" - proudly displayed below the collar on the back of their jerseys - is all the club has right now.

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Contact Brian Westfall at bwestfall@sportsnetwork.com.

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