Photo by Brad Smith/ISIphotos.com
By THOMAS FLOYD
WASHINGTON – D.C. United coach Ben Olsen hasn't shied away from banking his team's fortunes on the plethora of young talent at his disposal. During Saturday's 4-2 loss to the San Jose Earthquakes, United experienced the highs and, more often, the lows of such a philosophy.
San Jose striker Steven Lenhart notched a hat trick and chipped in an assist, pouncing on numerous youthful errors as D.C. fielded for the second straight match a starting lineup featuring six players in their rookie or second professional seasons.
"It was very disappointing," Olsen said. "We looked like young kids. This is going to happen. We have always said that we are going to have games when young kids make mistakes — that I can live with. But the lack of commitment at times was unacceptable."
The Earthquakes (5-4-4) extended their unbeaten streak to six while United (4-5-4) tasted defeat for the first time since April 29. Lenhart picked up the slack for a San Jose attack without Gold Cup call-ups Chris Wondolowski (USA) and Ryan Johnson (Jamaica) as United allowed four goals for the fourth time this season.
United goalkeeper Bill Hamid looked, for the first time in 2011, every bit his 20 years of age, struggling between the posts. Rookie defenders Perry Kitchen, Ethan White and Chris Korb showed a lack of communication and awareness in the back as Lenhart, acquired during the offseason from Columbus, used his whole arsenal — physicality, awareness and timing — to capitalize.
"I think it's been coming for Steven," San Jose coach Frank Yallop said. "He's had chances, but he scored in the last home game and he gets a hat trick tonight. [I'm] very, very happy for Steven because he's been through a lot this year with his family stuff and moving from Columbus."
United was kept in the game during a wild first half by the first goals of the season from 18-year-old Andy Najar and rookie Blake Brettschneider. But after entering halftime tied 2-2, D.C. fell apart early in the second stanza, conceding a Simon Dawkins strike in the 49th minute and Lenhart's third goal 11 minutes later.
"This league is all about working hard," Kitchen said. "And I think we got outworked tonight."
Lenhart filled in Wondolowski's sizable shoes admirably, scoring his second goal in a San Jose uniform in the 15th minute, just two minutes after Najar had put United ahead. The 6-foot-1 striker slipped between Kitchen and Korb to beat the offside trap and latch onto Khari Stephenson's through ball before rounding Hamid and firing his shot into the empty net.
Lenhart struck again in 22nd minute when he put home Hamid's rebound off a scorcher from Stephenson. And he showed his touch early in the second half, squeezing a pass between White and Kitchen to Dawkins, who beat Hamid from close range just one minute after entering the match.
"You respect them as players. It doesn't matter, their age," Lenhart said. "I just try and show up and impose who I am as a player and person. And tonight it seemed to work."
A error from Hamid gifted Lenhart his third tally, as the second-year goalkeeper unwisely charged from goal to contest a 50-50 ball toward the top of the penalty area. Hamid missed, and Lenhart nodded the ball into the vacated net.
"He's just a little pest," White said of Lenhart. "He's always there."
It was the third straight win at RFK Stadium for the Earthquakes, who haven't lost to D.C. since June 2008.