D.C. United falls to Columbus Crew despite Rafael goal

Rafael’s debut goal could not save D.C. United, falling 2-1 to the Columbus Crew on Saturday night at RFK Stadium before 11,034 fans. Photo: Columbus Crew foward Dominic Oduro (11) goes for the ball against D.C. United midfielder/defender Perry Kitchen (23) and Daniel Woolard (AP)

WASHINGTON, March 25, 2013 — Rafael’s debut goal could not save D.C. United which fell 2-1 to the visiting Columbus Crew on Saturday night at RFK Stadium before 11,034 fans. United had not lost a game at home since its season-opener last year. The loss could have been embarrassing if not for Bill Hamid’s heroic saves in the United nets.

United’s new forward, Rafael, who played 36 games for Brazil’s Bahia, the club Freddy Adu has now joined, made MLS his debut alongside striker Lionard Pajoy. And it was a dream start for the Brazilian.

In the 22nd minute he scored a stunning goal with a long-range 35-yard shot that took a bounce and went into the net past Crew goalie Andy Gruenebaum. It was a classic opportunistic effort and well-earned as Rafael worked hard to shrug off a defender in order to get in a shooting position.

No matter how many times United coach Ben Olsen warned his team in training, United failed to deal with the Crew on set pieces. On the 15-minute mark, the Crew scored off a free kick when defender Josh Williams headed in Tyson Wahl’s curling cross.

“I mean, you play Columbus every year and it’s the same thing — set pieces, set pieces, set pieces. They scored on two set pieces, essentially,” Olsen said. “You go over them, you give assignments and in the end, they’re a tough team to defend on set pieces.”

In the United nets, Hamid was forced to make a fine save to stop the ever-dangerous Federico Higuain’s shot. United was certainly looking unsettled, and Hamid again called to the rescue, stopping another shot from Higuain in the 25th minute.

“He has done a fantastic job,” said United captain Dwayne De Rosario about his keeper.  “Some saves have been unbelievable; I mean they should have been goals.”

United suffered some bad luck in the 27th minute, when midfielder Nick DeLeon came off the field with an injury and was replaced by Kyle Porter.

Fresh off the bench, Porter thought he had given United the lead just before halftime. It appeared he had beaten the offside trap when he rounded the Crew backline to easily score. However, while Porter was in an onside position, Pajoy was ruled offside, interfering with the play, and the goal was called back. Video replay showed Pajoy was clearly involved in the play.

What can one says about Hamid? Again in the second half, he came up with two huge saves, stopping shots from Chad Marshall and Wahl in quick succession.

But Hamid could do nothing to stop Ben Speas shot in the 58th minute after the United backline failed to clear a Crew freekick. Speas fired in a low shot from the edge of the 18-yard-box to give the visitors a 2-1 lead.

Eddie Gaven nearly extended the Crew’s lead, but Hamid again came up big, tipping the ball over the bar. De Rosario came close to tying the game with a header in the 66th minute forcing Gruenbaum to make a diving save. Last-year’s top shooter Chris Pontius got few looks on goal. Lewis Neal came on to replace Rafael in the 70th minute to earn his first minutes of the season.

United, which beat the Crew twice at home last year, went in hunt for the equalizing goal with a frenzy but were stopped by the amazing efforts of Gruenbaum, who saved Pajoy’s header with an amazing save only to better it, by stopping De Rosario’s close-range effort on the far post.

Ben Olsen, who took the blame for the loss in the post-game interview, threw the dice with ten minutes left on the clock, sending on veteran striker Carlos Ruiz for defender James Riley.

Hamid pulled off another great save in stoppage time to keep the scoreline modest.

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John Haydon

John Haydon has covered soccer for The Washington Times for two decades. He has reported on international soccer events in Germany, South Korea and Spain. John hails from Birmingham, England and has lived in the Washington D.C. region for over twenty years.  

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