By THOMAS FLOYD
WASHINGTON — It was a classic Lionard Pajoy sequence. Run down a pass with hustle. Beat a defender with skill. Yank the shot wide with errant aim.
If Pajoy had cashed in on his hard work, D.C. United would have taken the lead in first-half stoppage time at Sporting Kansas City on Friday. But he didn’t. After Claudio Bieler cracked United’s defense late, the visitors instead returned to the nation’s capital with a 1-0 loss, a 1-3-1 record and just two goals scored in this 2013 campaign.
“He needs to be better at finishing. Everybody knows that,” coach Ben Olsen said. “I believe in Lio, I believe he can get a little bit of confidence. All it takes is one goal. But it hasn’t been good enough. He knows that, and he’s pressing to get one.”
In 424 minutes this season, Pajoy has put just one shot on frame — a point-blank header in a 1-0 win over Real Salt Lake on March 9 for his only goal of the season. With Pajoy starting every match up top, United have the second-least-prolific offense in the league a year after finishing fourth in MLS with 53 goals.
But Olsen isn’t about to heap all of his team’s troubles on the 31-year-old striker, who incidentally was quite sharp during a finishing drill at the end of training Monday.
“Keep in mind there are a lot of other guys who haven’t scored on this team right now too,” Olsen said. “So for everybody to look at Lio right now as the reason we’re not scoring goals is, I think, a little bit unfair. Certainly not completely unfair. That’s a reality of a No. 9′s life.
“But there has to be more service to him, we have to be more cohesive in the offensive third to get him more chances. So maybe he needs three or four. But there are a lot of forwards in this league that are getting three or four really good chances and putting one in.”
Here are some more notes from RFK Stadium on Monday:
‘EARNING THE RIGHT’ TO BUILD
Discussing his team’s defensive mentality for that trip to Kansas City, Olsen after the match said the club is still “earning the right to play soccer,” noting “we’re not good enough to … build out of the back.”
So how are United going to solve this problem?
“I think everyone needs to be a little bit more aggressive and want the ball at certain positions,” centerback Dejan Jakovic said. “We obviously have to do a better job of holding up and creating more chances. I feel like that part of our game is going to come. I’m not too worried.”
Added midfielder Perry Kitchen: “We just have to read the situation, obviously. If there’s time and space, we’re not going to just dump it down the field.”
On Monday, Olsen elaborated on his remarks, noting United aren’t the only team in MLS still trying to find cohesion in midfield.
“The league’s pretty poor right now,” Olsen said. “There are a few teams that are, I think, solid and are going to continue to rack up points. But the rest of the league is still finding out who they are. A lot of turnover, a lot changes. The key is early in the season to pick up points while you’re still trying to find that rhythm.”
As midfielder Chris Pontius said, “It’s not a good feeling right now, but it’s one that can just turn around obviously with just one game of explosion of offense.”
DE ROSARIO OPTIMISTIC ON INJURY
After sitting out the loss to Kansas City with an adductor strain, captain Dwayne De Rosario hopes to be on the field Saturday for United’s Atlantic Cup clash against the New York Red Bulls.
“The leg feels good, the body feels good,” De Rosario said. “Obviously it’s day to day to see how I feel. It’s a huge game for us. Obviously it’s rival New York, a game everybody wants to be a part of, I want to be a part of. Hopefully the leg’s ready to go.”
Regarding the decision to sit out at Sporting after suffering the injury during a closed-door scrimmage against the Richmond Kickers on March 29, De Rosario said he “was just being cautious. It’s a long season, still the start of the season, so I’m not going to overdo anything right now.”
Olsen, on the other hand, was slightly more tepid on the status of the 2011 MVP playmaker.
“It’s early,” he said. “We’ve got a long week to where he comes in at late in the week. But we’re still moving him along.”
AUGUSTO EARNS PRAISE
Central midfielder Raphael Augusto, 22, against Kansas City made his first start for United since joining the club on loan from Brazilian side Fluminense, completing 21 of 32 passes during his 72 minutes.
“For his first real soccer game, in the MLS, I thought he did well,” Olsen said. “He helps up with possession. I want him on the ball more. If we’re going to have him out there and have some of his offensive qualities, we have to look for him. He has to look for the ball more.”
DELEON MAKING PROGRESS
Midfielder Nick DeLeon, sidelined since straining his hamstring in a 2-1 loss to Columbus on March 23, observed training from an exercise bike but was upbeat about the ailment.
“It’s healing good, I can say that,” DeLeon said. “If it keeps healing this way, it could be sooner. A week, it could be two, it could be three. You don’t know. Progress is going good, though.”
Do you think Olsen is right to support Pajoy? Or should United make a change up top? And what does D.C. need to do to improve its possession game?
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