DC United defense tightens, attack slumps with Red Bulls

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DC United have brought some good vibes back to Audi Field thanks to high profile hiring and several signings lately. A famous figure (Wayne Rooney) is pacing the touchline, a Premier League striker (Christian Benteke) is on the way and a potential starting goalkeeper (David Ochoa) is approaching his debut.

The trick now is to convert moves into momentum, even if the MLS playoffs are almost out of reach.

Saturday’s 0-0 draw with the New York Red Bulls gave United the first defensive shutout in three months, but no high-quality scoring chance before a reported 16,258 at Buzzard Point.

Envisaging progressive steps as his team takes shape, Rooney praised the defensive performance.

“For us to move forward, we need to be better defensively,” he said. “That’s a real plus point.”

New York finished with 13 shots but only one on goal; The DC defenders blocked seven attempts and shielded goalkeeper Rafael Romo from any real danger.

Having conceded early goals in six of the previous eight matches, United have been sharp. Even with a makeshift backline that included second-year striker Kimarni Smith at left-back, DC executed well-timed tackles and worked well together.

“It’s been a long time since we had a zero,” said captain Steven Birnbaum, a centre-back. “It weighs on us, and it weighs on me.”

After a promising start, however, the attack never happened. The Red Bulls (10-7-7) had conceded 13 goals in the previous three matches, including a US Open Cup semi-final rout in Orlando, but were barely put off by the hosts. United (6-13-4) also faced a vulnerable opponent on Wednesday in Charlotte but failed to score, and have now gone scoreless in four of their last seven outings.

United had four shots on Saturday, two of them on goal. Rooney cited the lack of creativity in the final third of the field, but DC’s issues are also tied to changing chemistry.

Of the six new acquisitions, three started on Saturday: striker Miguel Berry, midfielder Ravel Morrison and winger Martín Rodríguez. Benteke and defensive midfielder Victor Palsson are awaiting work visas, and Ochoa is working on fitness.

As he waits for a full cast, Rooney implements his system, begging for faster play and upping the tempo.

“I see some improvement,” said rookie midfielder Sofiane Djeffal. “In terms of mentality, it’s much better. We have 11, 15, 20 fighters. … We are learning a new form. We learn a new way to play.

The first half was marked by more injury stoppages than scoring chances. United lost rookie midfielder Jackson Hopkins to a knee injury in the 41st minute. He was replaced by Taxi Fountas, the team’s top scorer who was initially saved for the second half after leaving Wednesday’s game at half-time with a tight groin.

The first real threat came in the 62nd minute, when New York’s Patryk Klimala sent an oblique offer a hair’s breadth from the far corner.

With his side unable to generate chances, Rooney made three substitutions in the 77th minute. Still, United spat.

“We’re trying to put together a really good team,” Rooney said. “We have signed some very good players. Once we have them all fit and on the pitch, I think we will have a very good team. And then we want to move on. We are not just focusing on this season. We are focused on next season and beyond.

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

Hines-Ike asks for a second opinion

United have yet to announce a diagnosis and prognosis for defender Brendan Hines-Ike, who suffered a foot injury on Wednesday. He will seek a second opinion but will in all likelihood miss the rest of the season. Hines-Ike started 20 games. …

Forwards Michael Estrada (four goals and four assists) and Nigel Robertha (one and three) were dropped from the game’s roster for the fourth consecutive game. Neither is injured.

Estrada, an Ecuadorian on loan from Toluca in Mexico, turned down a trade offer, people with knowledge of his status said. If he found a suitor overseas, one person said, he and United would terminate his contract. He needs game time to solidify his case for making Ecuador’s World Cup roster. …

Full-back Chris Odoi-Atsem, who started the previous two games, was unavailable after entering health and safety protocols.

Benteke eyes August 20 debut

Benteke, who signed for United this week from Crystal Palace, could make his MLS debut on August 20 against the visiting Philadelphia Union, team officials have said.

The forward is due to visit the DC area next week to begin orienting himself with new teammates and the coaching staff and finding accommodation.

Saturday marked the 99th meeting (regular season and playoffs) between the founding members of MLS and decided the annual Atlantic Cup, awarded to the winner of the regular season series. The Red Bulls have won the crown.

With Fountas sidelined with back spasms, the Red Bulls won the regular season opener, 4-1, on May 28 in Harrison, NJ. The teams also met in the US Open Cup on May 10, with the Red Bulls winning 3-0. , in Washington.

The busy schedule continues

United ended a three-match-in-seven-day streak on Saturday and will now have a week to prepare for three matches in eight days: at New England next Saturday, MLS Cup favorites Los Angeles FC on 16 August and at home four days later against Los Angeles. Philadelphia Cup contender.

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