Perry Kitchen stood in the D.C. United locker room Saturday night shaking his head in disbelief. The 20-year-old, along with fellow rookie defenders, Ethan White, 20, and Chris Korb, 23, had just experienced a tough learning curve. For 90-plus minutes, the young back line, playing in front of their 20-year-old goalie Bill Hamid, had been systematically taken apart by San Jose Earthquakes’ big striker Steven Lenhart in a 4-2 loss before 14,105 disappointed fans at RFK Stadium.
Lenhart’s hat trick and assist brought United’s five-game unbeaten streak to a screeching halt.
“You can never be satisfied giving up four goals,” said Kitchen. “We’ll just have to look back on this game and see what we can learn from it.”
It was deflating for the defense, especially after the same group of players had won accolades for holding David Beckham and the Los Angeles Galaxy to a scoreless tie on the road just over a week ago. And two of the rookie defenders had helped in United’s 3-2 win at the Portland Timbers the same week.
“Maybe we were too complacent from the win and tie on the road,” said White. “This was just not good enough.”
The blow was all the more embarrassing because the Earthquakes were without their leading goal-scorer Chris Wondolowski, who was on duty with the U.S. national team at the Gold Cup.
“I’m very disappointed about the way we handled that game,” said United coach Ben Olsen. “We looked like young kids. This is going to happen. We’ve always said that we are going to have games like this where young kids make mistakes - that, I can live with. The commitment and energy we didn’t show was unacceptable. I think we started reading our own press a bit. Everybody thought that we were on a roll, that now we didn’t have to do what got us a little success - and it is only a little success.”
After taking the lead in the 13th minute on Andy Najar’s first goal of the season - and on his bobblehead giveaway night, too - United’s back line fell asleep and allowed Lenhart to beat Hamid with a fine shot two minutes later.
“The number one rule in soccer: Once you score, the next five minutes is the most important part of the game,” White said. “We didn’t follow that rule.”
Lenhart put San Jose in the lead in the 22nd minute off a rebound, but again United fought back as rookie forward Blake Brettschneider scored his first league goal to tie the game 12 minutes later. It looked promising for the home team.
“Offensively, it was pretty good … if we score two goals we should win games,” Olsen said.
It didn’t work out that way. After the break, Lenhart set up Simon Dawkins for a goal. The English striker had been on the field less than a minute before he found a way through United’s back line.
“I didn’t do my part on one or two plays,” Hamid said. “I could have kept us in the game.”
United (4-5-4) has leaked 24 goals in 13 games - second-worst in the league.