D.C. United digs early deficit, falls to Charlotte FC


CHARLOTTE — In the 13th minute of D.C. United’s 3-0 defeat to Charlotte FC on Wednesday, captain Steven Birnbaum took a ball off the nose and watched helplessly as it caromed into his net for yet another early deficit this harsh summer.

By the end of the night, the cold reality of managing a deficient team had smacked Coach Wayne Rooney squarely in the face.

In Rooney’s second match in charge, United was not nearly good enough to beat an expansion side that, aside from a few spells, controlled the festivities before an announced 31,520 at Bank of America Stadium.

Three days after a miraculous finish overshadowed shortcomings — and produced a 2-1 comeback victory over Orlando City at Audi Field — United (6-13-3) was back to its old ways. It fell behind inside 15 minutes for the sixth time in eight matches, manufactured few quality chances and fell to 1-4-1 in the past six outings.

Leading scorer Taxi Fountas did not play the second half because of groin tightness, and starting defender Brendan Hines-Ike left with a foot injury that will require X-rays.

Charlotte (9-12-2) went ahead on Birnbaum’s inadvertent own goal, then raced away in a three-minute span of the second half on goals by Karol Swiderski and Quinn McNeill. All the scoring came off crosses.

“All night we didn’t deal with crosses well enough,” Rooney said. “I stressed to the players at halftime that we need to get closer to stop crosses coming into the box, which we didn’t do. And when it comes into the box, we have to defend them better. That was a disappointment.”

United did not have a serious threat until Chris Durkin’s 89th-minute bid crashed off the frame. The visitors labored to build meaningful possession and placed one shot on goal against a team that conceded seven goals the previous two matches.

“We got into areas where I wanted us to get into, but we weren’t positive enough,” Rooney said. “We were hesitant to pass forward.”

Charlotte went ahead when Swiderski headed Joseph Mora’s cross into traffic in the six-yard box. Rafael Romo extended himself and punched the ball, which caromed off the face of the retreating Birnbaum.

Fountas (11 goals) departed at halftime for precautionary reasons, Rooney said. Eight minutes into the second half, Hines-Ike was helped off — and matters got progressively worse.

In the 64th minute, after Charlotte moved the ball side to side, Romo made a diving save on Yordy Reyna’s smash from beyond the penalty area. Swiderski tapped in the rebound.

“Once they scored that second goal,” Birnbaum said, “it was a gut punch.”

Three minutes later, after Romo stopped Swiderski’s header off a cross, Gaines crossed to McNeill for an eight-yard one-timer.

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

Ochoa travels but doesn’t suit up

Newly acquired goalkeeper David Ochoa, pegged to compete for the starting job, traveled with the team for conditioning and acclimation purposes but is still seven to 10 days from being ready to play, Rooney said.

Midfielder Russell Canouse returned from a hamstring injury and made his first start since June 25.

Striker Ola Kamara, a sub in his past three appearances, made his first start since July 8. Miguel Berry, who didn’t score in two starts since he arrived from Columbus, came off the bench in the 70th minute.

Transfer and trade deadline nears

With one day left in MLS’s transfer and trade window, United officials remain in the market for a player to fill the last designated player slot and others to add depth.

“We were trying to get something over the line or close to done while the game was going on,” Rooney said. “It could be difficult in terms of the time frame, but we are trying to get at least one more player done.”

Christian Benteke, a Belgian striker at Crystal Palace, was among three international forwards on the shortlist, a person familiar with the situation said. Given the presumed high transfer fee and contract, though, he is a long shot.

Even after the window closes late Thursday night, teams may still sign free agents until the Sept. 2 roster freeze.

Red Bulls arriving in D.C.

United will cap a stretch of three matches over seven days Saturday night when the rival New York Red Bulls (10-7-6) visit Audi Field. The Red Bulls, who are coming off a 5-4 home defeat to the Colorado Rapids on Tuesday, are in prime position to win the annual Atlantic Cup after routing United, 4-1, on May 28 in Harrison, N.J.

United finalized the hiring of assistant coach Pete Shuttleworth, who was on Rooney’s staff at Derby County in England. Until he receives a work visa, the Englishman will continue to observe matches from the suite level.

“I was excited about the project here at D.C. United and look forward to the challenge of helping the club achieve great things under Wayne,” Shuttleworth said in a statement.

DMV influence in Charlotte

Former University of Maryland star Ben Bender, the first pick in last winter’s draft, made his 14th start for Charlotte and logged 84 minutes.

Reyna, who was released by United last offseason, was influential throughout the match. Mora, another D.C. castoff, was solid at left back.

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