Throughout this season, D.C. United has cost itself valuable points in league play and in international competition by committing key defensive blunders.
It was no different Wednesday night against Toluca FC at RFK Stadium.
United fell 3-1 to the Mexican club in a group-play match in the CONCACAF Champions League before 8,834.
“This was disappointing on all fronts,” United coach Tom Soehn said. “I thought we were manhandled in the first half. We were unorganized. We talked about how we were going to defend, and we didn’t do a good job to try and clog the middle.”
A horrid mix-up in the penalty area between goalie Josh Wicks and defender David Habarugira in the fifth minute led to the visitors’ opening goal.
United came out after halftime and tied the game on a Chris Pontius goal following some fine work from substitute Santino Quaranta.
But a stunning late goal from Toluca’s Hector Mancilla ruined United’s comeback. Then the Chilean striker made United defenders Julius James and Avery John pay for ball-watching as he finished off the game with his second score.
“It always seems that once we get that one goal back we kind of drop off a little bit again. We had them on their heels… but a bad play hurts us and puts us back in the same predicament,” Quaranta said.
It was United’s first loss at RFK this season in all competitions, putting another dent in the team’s confidence.
“You have to make sure you take care of your home games, and we sure didn’t take care of this,” Soehn said.
As for United’s offense, it lacked imagination and creativity for much of the game.
With the club clearly focused on making the MLS playoffs, United rested a number of key players and fielded six reserves in the starting lineup. Toluca also kicked-off the game with a weak team, starting just four players who played in the team’s league win over Santos on Sunday.
The weak lineup didn’t help United.
Wicks and new signing Habarugira both ran to cut off a pass but instead got in each other’s way. The ball bounced between them and into the path of Vladimir Marin on the left flank, who pounced on the ball for an easy goal.
Last week, United defender Greg Janicki made a number of major errors as United lost to CD Marathon 3-1 in Honduras in its first group-stage match.
Soehn then made an early change in response to a decidedly poor first-half showing, bringing Fred on for midfielder Ely Allen in the 34th minute.
Quaranta replaced Jaime Moreno after the break and immediately made an impact. Just two minutes after stepping on the field, Quaranta played a curling pass from the left to Pontius, who headed the ball into the net from eight yards out to tie the score.
“In the second half I thought [Quaranta] added some life and some energy, and when we got the goal it gave us a little spark, but it wasn’t enough. It just wasn’t good enough,” Soehn said.
But United’s night was over in the 79th minute when Mancilla toyed with Marc Burch, sending the United defender the wrong way and scoring with a low shot from 15 yards.
Mancilla made it 3-1 when defenders James and John failed to intercept what looked like a simple pass across the penalty area. The striker needed just an easy touch to tap the ball into the net.
United is now 0-2 and at the bottom of Group B with four games left in round-robin play.
Last year, United went 0-5-1 in the international tournament that pits the best clubs in North America, Central America and the Caribbean.