DC United’s defense tightened, and the attack was exacerbated by a draw with Red Bulls


DC United has brought the good vibes back to Audi Field with high profile appointments and several signings recently. There’s a celebrity (Wayne Rooney) on the touchline, Premier League striker (Christian Benteke) on his way, and a potential goalkeeper (David Ochoa) nearing his start.

The trick now is to turn the moves into momentum, even if the MLS playoffs are a long way off.

Saturday’s goalless draw with the New York Red Bulls resulted in United’s first defensive elimination in three months but there were no high-quality scoring opportunities before 16,258 were announced at Buzzard Point.

Looking forward to incremental steps with his team formation, Rooney saluted the defensive performance.

“To move forward, we have to be better defensively,” he said. “It’s a really positive thing.”

New York finished 13 shots but only one on target. The defenders of the capital repelled seven attempts and protected goalkeeper Rafael Romo from any real danger.

After conceding early goals in six of the previous eight games, United were sharp. Even with a temporary defensive line that included second-year striker Kimarney Smith at left-back, DC executed well-timed tackles and worked well together.

“It’s been a long time since we got zero,” said captain Stephen Birnbaum, centre-back. “He was weighing us down, he was weighing me down.”

But after a promising start, the offensive never started. The Red Bulls (10-7-7) had conceded 13 goals in the previous three games, including winning the US Open semi-final in Orlando, but the hosts were hardly stunned. United (6-13-4) also faced a poor opponent on Wednesday in Charlotte but were unable to score, now going goalless in four of the past seven games.

United had four shots on Saturday, two on target. Rooney noted the lack of creativity in the final third of the field, but the DC issues are also linked to the development of chemistry.

Of the six new acquisitions, three began on Saturday: striker Miguel Perry, midfielder Ravel Morrison and winger Martin Rodriguez. Benteke and defensive midfielder Victor Balson are awaiting work visas, and Ochoa is working to improve his fitness.

While the entire cast waits, Ronnie implements his system, demanding faster play and a higher rate of work.

“I see some improvement,” said rising midfielder Sofiane Jeval. “Mentally speaking, it’s way better. We have 11, 15, 20 fighters. … We’re learning a new form. We’re learning a new way of playing.”

The first half featured more strikes for injuries than scoring chances. United lost rising midfielder Jackson Hopkins to a knee ailment in the 41st minute. He was replaced by Taxi Fountas, the team’s top scorer who was initially blocked for the second half after leaving Wednesday’s first-half game with a tight groin.

The first real threat came in the 62nd minute, when New York player Patrick Klimala sent in a wide-angle display from the far corner.

With his team unable to create chances, Rooney made three changes in the 77th minute. However, United are clumsy.

“We’re trying to put together a really good team,” Rooney said. “We’ve brought in some really good players. Once we get them all in good shape and on the field, I think we’ll have a very good squad. And then we want to move on. We’re not just focused on this season. We’re focused on next season and beyond.”

Here’s what else you need to know about the United draw:

Hines-Ike seeks a second opinion

United have yet to announce a diagnosis and prognosis for defender Brendan Heinz Ike, who injured his foot on Wednesday. He will seek a second opinion but will likely miss the rest of the season. Hines-Ike started 20 matches. …

Strikers Michael Estrada (four goals, four assists) and Nigel Roberta (one, three) have been left out of the match-day roster for the fourth consecutive match. Neither of them was hurt.

People familiar with his standing said Estrada, an Ecuadorean on loan from Toluca, Mexico, rejected a proposed deal. Someone said that if he found a suitor abroad, he would terminate his contract with United. He needs time to play to bolster his cause for Ecuador’s World Cup roster. …

Defender Chris Odoi Atsim, who started the previous two matches, was not available after going into health and safety protocols.

Benteke is looking forward to debuting on August 20

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

The striker is set to visit the capital next week to begin orienting himself with his new teammates and coaching staff and finding accommodation.

Saturday saw the 99th meeting (regular season and play-off matches) between the founding members of MLS and the determination of the annual Atlantic Cup, awarded to the winner of the regular season series. The Red Bulls won the crown.

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

Busy calendar continues

United finished three games in seven days on Saturday and will now have a week to prepare for three games in eight days: in New England next Saturday, in the MLS favorite in Los Angeles on August 16 and at home four days later vs. Philadelphia Cup competitor.

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