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D.C. United collapses late in demoralizing loss to Orlando City

D.C. United collapses late in demoralizing loss to Orlando City

Tooba Shakir 54 years ago 0 0

With a firm foundation and fresh ideas, D.C. United has been poised to blossom in its evolution under first-year coach Troy Lesesne. The road draws have been encouraging, but to a man, United has spoken of needing to take the next step and begin climbing MLS’s Eastern Conference standings.

Optimism during Saturday’s home date with Orlando City rose and dipped through the night, ending on a stunning down note after United conceded two goals in a late 10-minute span and dropped a 3-2 decision before 18,615 at Audi Field.

“We can feel good about ourselves for 70 minutes, but the reality is the trend we’re seeing about wanting to have these complete performances, we’re not fulfilling that right now,” Lesesne said.

It was far from the complete performance Lesesne has sought, but thanks to Gabriel Pirani’s 66th-minute goal, United (2-2-4) seemed on its way to three points. The lead, though, disappeared 16 minutes later on a poorly defended corner kick, and the tie evaporated on a breakaway just as stoppage time began.

Last weekend, United conceded a late equalizer at Columbus despite having a man advantage. Earlier this season, it could not hold a lead in St. Louis.

“We have to be careful now about making the right adjustments and not making it a trend,” goalkeeper Alex Bono said. “It’s still early in the year, and we have plenty of time to make the adjustments that we need and make sure we stop the bleeding with giving up late goals.”

Pirani, who lost his starting job two weeks ago, entered at the start of the second half and was active and influential leading up to his first goal of the year. Christian Benteke, who scored early in the game, headed the ball to Pirani, who settled it with his right thigh and scored on a left-footed volley.

Orlando (2-3-2) tied it off Facundo Torres’s corner kick when David Brekalo got behind Benteke and in front of Bono for a header inside the six-yard box.

With United pressed forward as regulation was expiring, Orlando countered against its slow-reacting host. Nico Lodeiro launched the ball to fellow substitute Duncan McGuire for a breakaway. Bono scrambled back, but McGuire calmly slotted the ball past him.

“This is the risk because of the way we are playing, but I’d rather us to be brave than sitting back and hoping to not concede,” Benteke said. “Obviously it doesn’t mean we have to be silly and just be exposed without using our brain.”

Benteke added: “Even the second goal, it’s a killer because we spoke about completing our games. … This is a process with a young group, and I think we are learning. Obviously we are learning the hard way, but we are still learning.”

Orlando’s Pedro Gallese made multiple saves during 14 minutes of stoppage time.

From a data and performance standpoint, United has been a revelation this spring. The results have been encouraging but unfulfilling. Four difficult away assignments yielded four draws yet a feeling points were left on the table.

United took almost no time in taking the lead Saturday when Gallese ran into United’s Conner Antley and Benteke sent an arching, seven-yard header into the open net for his sixth goal.

In similar situations this year, United has struggled to capitalize on subsequent opportunities and extend the lead. That began to play out again Saturday as two prime chances in the following 10 minutes went adrift, and Orlando drew even in the 28th when Dagur Thorhallsson scored on a close-range header.

By early in the second half, United had accumulated far more yellow cards (six) than scoring opportunities over a 35-minute span. Lesesne was among those booked by referee Guido Gonzales Jr.

Pirani’s goal broke open the match, but Orlando capitalized on United’s mistakes.

“We’re dropping points, and we have to take responsibility,” Lesesne said. “I have to take responsibility, first and foremost.”

Here’s what else to know about United’s loss:

Liking his team’s direction, Lesesne stuck with almost the same lineup that tied the defending champion Columbus Crew last weekend. He did, however, replace forward Ted Ku-DiPietro (adductor injury) with 18-year-old Kristian Fletcher.

At halftime, Pirani came on for Fletcher, and Matti Peltola took Jackson Hopkins’s spot in defensive midfield.

Last week’s on-field altercation between Pirani and Lucas Bartlett — they had to be separated after Columbus scored the late equalizer — was quickly put to rest, Lesesne said. At training this week, they were interacting normally.

“We packed that away after the [Columbus] match,” Lesesne said.

Next Saturday, United will play its annual away match against New York City FC; the venue, though, will not be Yankee Stadium, NYCFC’s home for most games over its 10 seasons. With the Yankees enjoying a homestand, United will make its first visit to Citi Field, home of the Mets.

NYCFC’s long-term future received a boost Thursday when the City Council approved a 25,000-seat soccer stadium next to Citi Field, set to open in 2027.

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