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D.C. United, up a goal and a man, settles for a draw at Columbus

D.C. United, up a goal and a man, settles for a draw at Columbus

Tooba Shakir 54 years ago 0 0

COLUMBUS, Ohio — D.C. United is unequivocally ahead of schedule in resetting team culture and applying fresh tactics to an operation that had grown stale. The results have begun to follow, though not without missteps and missed opportunity.

Away matches have tested Coach Troy Lesesne’s project, but with each visit to places where points are hard to come by, United has come away with something valuable.

Saturday’s mission took United to central Ohio, where a wild second half yielded a lead and a man advantage and ultimately one point from a 1-1 draw with the reigning champion Columbus Crew.

United (2-1-4) remained unbeaten on the road with four draws and continued making strides under its new coach. Christian Benteke scored his fifth goal of the season and goalkeeper Alex Bono and his defensive unit blanked the Crew (3-1-3) until the closing moments.

After several quality chances, United went ahead in the 61st minute. Cristian Dájome swung a cross to Benteke, who won the aerial battle, as he often does. The ball flew to Aaron Herrera for a crackling one-timer from the top of the box.

The shot hit teammate Jared Stroud and fell to Benteke nestled between two defenders for a 10-yard strike.

Down a man after Cucho Hernández’s 75th-minute red card, the Crew drew level in the 87th on Aidan Morris’s blazing strike from 27 yards.

As 20,740 celebrated, D.C. defender Lucas Bartlett shouted and gestured at teammate Gabriel Pirani for shirking defensive responsibilities. Pirani went back at Bartlett, then shoved him.

For the fourth time, United played a team balancing a league match with international competition, the Concacaf Champions Cup. United has no such distractions. Columbus hosted the first leg of a quarterfinal against Tigres on Tuesday and will visit Monterrey, Mexico, this Tuesday.

The Crew welcomed back Hernández, one of MLS’s most dynamic young players, who started Saturday after sitting out an MLS and Champions Cup match for what Coach Wilfried Nancy said was a violation of “team policy.”

Lesesne tweaked the lineup, deploying three central defenders and two wing backs instead of a standard four-man backline. Matti Peltola, the usual defensive midfielder, began the night on the bench to manage his minutes following international duty with Finland.

In Peltola’s place, Lesesne put his faith in Jackson Hopkins, a 19-year-old homegrown from Fredericksburg, Va., starting for the second time in three games. He has proved to be a maturing and valuable sub, as he was last weekend against Montreal.

Less than two minutes into Saturday’s outing, Hopkins flashed high confidence and fine technique in smashing a 25-yard effort off the left post.

By pressuring Columbus in the back, counterattacking quickly and supplying Benteke, United created several dangerous moments. The number — and quality — of chances grew as the half transpired, but the final execution was a bit off and Columbus’s Patrick Schulte made a sensational save on Benteke’s stab deep in the box during stoppage time.

At the other end, timely tackles in the box and quick recoveries extinguished growing threats. Columbus’s best chance came in the 32nd minute, when Hernández’s bid caromed narrowly wide.

Following Benteke’s breakthrough, Bono made a sparkling reflex save on Diego Rossi’s running one-timer from eight yards.

Hernández’s frustrating night reached a boiling point when, after failing to draw a foul on Christopher McVey, the fallen forward kicked the D.C. defender with two feet and received a red card.

Columbus did not let up, though, and got even down the stretch.

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

Birnbaum ‘making progress’

Center back Steven Birnbaum, United’s captain and longest-serving player, is “absolutely making progress” in his recovery from a preseason knee injury, Lesesne said.

“We’re not going to rush it, by any means, because we are looking at the long game, and having Steve available for a significant period of any type of the 2024 season is what we want — not just for six weeks here, six weeks there,” Lesesne said. …

Midfielder Russell Canouse (illness), defender Garrison Tubbs (hamstring), and goalkeepers Tyler Miller (shoulder) and Nate Crockford (concussion) also remain out.

After being in uniform the previous two matches, left back Mohanad Jeahze wasn’t part of the travel delegation, even though a match-day roster slot was available. He was not on the injury report but had been having some head issues.

Jeahze was passed over the first four games, as well. Because Jeahze is not in Lesesne’s long-term plans, United has been looking to part ways via trade, transfer or mutual agreement.

Next Saturday, United will host Orlando City, which was off this weekend amid a 1-4-2 rut across all competitions (MLS and Champions Cup), though it is 1-0-1 in the past two regular season matches.

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