D.C. United delivers another dud, vexing a sellout Audi Field crowd

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D.C. United’s season, marred by an early coaching change, limp attack and shameful defending, continued to crumble Saturday with a 3-1 defeat to Nashville SC at Audi Field.

A five-minute stretch shortly after kickoff epitomized the darkness.

Two defenders pursued a cross deep in the box. Neither alleviated the danger, leaving the ball to be pumped into the net.

Moments later, a D.C. player with a glaring opportunity missed the ball so badly he spin-cycled himself into the ground in spectacular fashion.

It only got worse as United (4-9-2) ran its losing streak to three and winless skid to six while dropping to 2-5-2 since Chad Ashton replaced Hernán Losada as the coach.

“We can’t keep going down this road,” Ashton said. “We’ve got to try something else. We’ve got to try [to] change something.”

The defeat came before an announced sellout of 19,325, the largest home attendance figure since a sellout for Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s visit with the Los Angeles Galaxy in August 2019. This audience had nothing to cheer until Taxiarchis Fountas’s 59th-minute goal cut into a three-goal deficit.

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Midfielder Russell Canouse described the situation as “terrible.” He added: “We were trying to look for answers, trying to solve the problems we’re having. It’s been consistent themes the whole year, and we’re not figuring it out.”

Since starting the season with two shutout victories, United has conceded multiple goals in 10 of 13 matches. It has scored more than once just one time in the past five matches and has recorded 18 goals all season.

The front office says roster help is on the way. Meanwhile, problems are mounting.

“We can’t even think about help coming because we are who we are right now,” Ashton said. “We need to make sure we don’t let the playoff line get too far away from us, which is beginning to happen.”

He continued: “We need to realize we need to have some urgency. Yes, it’s still early in the season. Yes, there’s plenty of time. Yes, there will be some other players, but that matters not at all at this point. And yes, there are some major concerns in terms of some basic things that we are not doing correctly. And it’s up to me and the coaching staff to fix that. And hopefully we will.”

Nothing was fixed Saturday. Nashville (7-5-5) took advantage of woeful defending to take the lead in the sixth minute.

On a cross targeting star forward Hany Mukhtar in the six-yard box, D.C.’s Andy Najar and Julian Gressel did not communicate. Both made a play for the ball, which struck Gressel on the upper back and caromed into the path of left back Daniel Lovitz for a 10-yard one-timer.

Ashton said the goal: “Takes the air out of us. It takes the air out of the building, and I felt like then the entire first half we were struggling to find any sort of traction whatsoever.”

United’s issues continued five minutes later, when, with a golden chance deep in the penalty area, Najar made no contact with his right-footed attempt. He put so much force into the bungled bid he tumbled hard to the turf.

Matters grew worse as first-half stoppage time began. Under pressure, Fountas relinquished possession, triggering a clinical response by the visitors. Randall Leal slipped the ball through a channel to Dax McCarty for a one-touch cross to Mukhtar, who finished from three yards.

Scattered boos ushered United to the locker room.

“Everybody’s head goes down, and it’s just not good enough,” Ashton said. “It’s just not good enough by me. It’s not good enough by the team. Too many poor performances by players, poor tactics by me. We can’t continue to go in this circle.”

The circle continued less than five minutes after intermission. Mukhtar struck a low shot from the top of the box. D.C. captain Steven Birnbaum stabbed at it with his left foot, redirecting the ball over goalkeeper Rafael Romo.

Fountas answered nine minutes later, collecting Nigel Robertha’s cross and scoring on a nine-yard one-timer for his sixth goal in nine games. A few mild threats later, and United was trudging off the field to more boos.

“We’ve got to figure out a way to pull ourselves out of it,” Birnbaum said. “It’s only going to come from us; no one’s going to help us. We know that, but we can’t have a performance like we did today.”

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

D.C. misses out on Gareth Bale

Welsh superstar Gareth Bale, a D.C. transfer target this summer, will sign with Los Angeles FC, according to MLS’s website.

United had abandoned exclusive MLS negotiating rights to the former Real Madrid attacker after it became clear he was not going to sign. MLS teams are limited to seven players on their discovery list, and United dropped Bale to make room for someone else.

D.C. United ships out Edison Flores, acquires winger Martín Rodríguez

United has so far finalized one signing: Chilean attacker Martín Rodríguez, from Turkish club Altay. He is awaiting a work visa, typically a two- to three-week process.

Griffin Yow arrives in Belgium

Griffin Yow, a 19-year-old attacker, arrived in Belgium on Friday ahead of his transfer to Westerlo, people close to the situation said. He will undergo medical protocols before the deal is finalized. United is expected to receive $100,000, 35 percent of any future transfer and additional cash tied to Yow’s performances.

The Clifton native will become the second D.C. homegrown sold abroad this year, joining wing back Kevin Paredes, from South Riding, who moved to Germany’s Wolfsburg on a $7 million deal.

Bill Hamid remains sidelined

Goalkeeper Bill Hamid was not in uniform for the second consecutive week as he continues to regain fitness after recovering from an undisclosed illness.

Midfielder Moses Nyeman, who has not played since March because of a hamstring injury, is close to returning to full participation in training. Defender Chris Odoi-Atsem (ankle and quadriceps injuries) is also working himself back into the mix.

Jackson Hopkins on international duty

Jackson Hopkins, a 17-year-old homegrown midfielder from Fredericksburg, joined the U.S. under-20 national team for the knockout stage of the Concacaf championship in Honduras. Since turning pro April 13, he has appeared in five MLS matches (one start).

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