The Washington Times - March 24, 2013, 10:39AM

Through three games, D.C. United clearly weren’t playing their best soccer. But the excuses were reasonable and the results were still there. Despite missing Dwayne De Rosario for two of those matches, which all came against playoff teams from a year ago, United still walked away with four points. Not bad.

But Saturday was different. It wasn’t just that United saw their 19-game home unbeaten streak snapped by a solid but unspectacular Columbus Crew bunch; it was how D.C. looked. There was little rhythm in attack. The defense was disorganized, forcing Bill Hamid to once again stand on his head. It just wasn’t pretty.

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As coach Ben Olsen put it, he’s now got two weeks “to whip this team into shape,” with United’s next game coming April 5 at Sporting Kansas City.

But for now, let’s look back to Saturday. Here are my observations from United’s 2-1 loss:

• After disappearing for much of his season debut at New York last week, De Rosario was dropped into midfield Saturday but still struggled to find the ball and dictate the game the way he did last season. On the plus side, he did nearly score twice, getting denied by Andy Gruenebaum on a dangerous header and a point-blank rebound opportunity. But United’s whole attack suffers when he doesn’t get involved in the possession game.

Consider this: De Rosario only completed 28 of his 44 passes. Columbus playmaker Federico Higuain, meanwhile, completed 40 of 54 passes.

Postgame, De Rosario didn’t seem terribly happy with his forwards: “Every ball we play over the top is offside. It kills the flow of the game, kills the momentum. So it’s hard to build the attack that way.”

• United lost reserve center back Emiiano Dudar during the offseason but chose ultimately not to replace the veteran, instead relying on third-year player Ethan White, as well as the versatility of fullbacks Daniel Woolard and Robbie Russell, as depth. With Dejan Jakovic on international duty Saturday, Woolard filled in centrally but didn’t look entirely comfortable. And on set pieces, United’s lack of size without Jakovic seemed to be a problem.

Olsen, however, dismissed such thoughts: “This wasn’t about missing Dejan. We could have won that game without Dejan.” That said, I wouldn’t be surprised if Olsen turned to White — the only other natural center back on the roster — the next time Jakovic or Brandon McDonald is out.

Rafael, United’s 20-year-old Brazilian designated player, hadn’t seen a second of playing time this season before getting the start against Columbus, and he rewarded Olsen in the 23rd minute when his 35-yard volley beat an out-of-position Gruenebaum. In his 70 minutes on the field, Rafael did well to apply pressure to Columbus’ back line but didn’t link up often with Lionard Pajoy or De Rosario.

“I thought it was crowded up there,” Olsen said. “Dwayne was a touch high. There weren’t a lot of spaces or alleys to get into our forwards. And when Dwayne pulled off a little in the second half, there were more chances for Rafael and Pajoy.”