- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 9, 2004

The undisciplined D.C. United of the past five seasons is back.

The only way the punchless Columbus Crew seemed like they were going to score a goal last night at RFK Stadium was via a penalty kick. So United gave them just that.

After United defender Brandon Prideaux inexplicably pulled down Frankie Hejduk from behind in the box, referee Terry Vaughn consulted with linesman Chris Strickland and awarded the Crew the penalty kick. Midfielder Ross Paule converted, and the Crew escaped with a 1-1 draw before 18,376.

“The game was stolen from us,” United coach Peter Nowak said. “You cannot have these kind of calls. Anywhere in the world, this is unacceptable.”

United (1-2-3) appeared on its way to earning a share of first place in Major League Soccer’s Eastern Conference, but Prideaux’s mistake kept D.C. winless in its last five games. For the second straight game, Prideaux started over Mike Petke on United’s back line.

“Yeah, there was contact, but clearly his feet came out from under him. He dives,” Prideaux said.

Televised replays showed Hejduk running away from Prideaux in the box. The only way United’s defender could slow Hejduk was to pull him down from behind.

“I felt like there was a foul. I felt there was definite contact,” Hejduk said. “I turned on Prideaux, there was some pulling going on and he grabbed me above the shoulders.”

Vaughn saw the controversial play the same way.

“The D.C. United player fouled the Columbus attacker inside the penalty area,” Vaughn said in a written statement after the game. “The referee was looking to see if an advantage would materialize and subsequently confirmed with the assistant referee that a foul in fact had occurred.”

The winless Crew (0-3-2) had scored one goal this season before Paule’s penalty kick.

United midfielder Dema Kovalenko, who is emerging as the club’s only reliable goal scorer, scored on a header in the fourth minute.

United’s pregame plan was to score early and prevent the desperate Crew from establishing momentum. An excellent buildup on Kovalenko’s goal stunned the visitors.

Jaime Moreno received a ball out of the midfield and rolled a pass to Ben Olsen on the right flank. Olsen delivered a curling cross outside the 18-yard box to the far left post. The unmarked Kovalenko then sent a low header from around 10 yards just inside the near post to beat goalkeeper Jon Busch.

Last week in San Jose, Kovalenko scored a 66th-minute equalizer that salvaged a 1-1 draw. The tie and the point United received was significant because United has not won a game against the defending MLS champion Earthquakes in six years.

The Ukrainian native finished last season tied with Marco Etcheverry as United’s leading goal scorer with six.

United went 10-11-9 and scored 38 goals all last season, second fewest in the league. After six games this season, the same scenario seems to be unfolding.

Freddy Adu wasn’t much help yesterday in his second career start. In the 39th minute, Adu drew a foul outside the 18-yard box trying to set up his left foot on a right-to-left run out top. After watching the ineffective 14-year-old for more than a half, coach Peter Nowak substituted Alecko Eskandarian in the 60th minute.

Meanwhile, the health of midfielder Bobby Convey is a problem for Nowak. Convey was forced to leave the game in the 27th minute with a strained left hamstring. Convey, a mainstay this year on the U.S. team, pulled up lame after a long run down the left flank after the whistle.

Convey’s place in the national team’s qualifying game June13 against Grenada in Columbus, Ohio, could be in jeopardy if the injury is serious.

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