Two-goal lead evaporates late as D.C. United’s losing streak continues

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Over the span of 10 minutes, D.C. United plunged into despair Saturday night at Audi Field. A two-goal lead shrunk to one, then none, and as the clock hit 90:00, Hernán Losada’s shorthanded squad was losing — an incomprehensible collapse resulting in a 3-2 defeat to Austin FC.

Danny Hoesen (80th minute), Sebástian Driussi (85th) and Ruben Gabrielsen (90th) turned certain defeat into an implausible three points and handed United its fourth consecutive loss since it opened with two victories.

The late uprising ended a nutty night that began with a 30-minute lightning delay and spoiled the MLS debuts of United’s Taxi Fountas, the club’s highest-paid player, and 17-year-old midfielder Jackson Hopkins, who signed a pro contract days earlier. It also spoiled United’s best 45 minutes of the year.

Why Chris Durkin came home to D.C. United

Ola Kamara scored twice for United (2-4-0) but was red-carded seconds before halftime.

United’s Chris Odoi-Atsem replaced injured Andy Najar, then left moments later with an injury of his own.

A visitor hit the crossbar from maybe two yards away. There were nine yellow cards and eight minutes of second-half stoppage time.

Kamara’s goals came in the 26th and 40th minutes, but he received a yellow card for removing his jersey during a goal celebration and another card for an unwise challenge just before intermission.

“We made mistakes. I saw certain attitudes,” Losada said. “You can’t get a yellow card by celebrating pulling out your shirt, especially a player with that experience. He scored two very good goals … and then you put yourself out of the game doing that.”

“The team goes always first,” Losada added. “It has to be collective above individual at all times, especially with me as a coach.”

Bill Hamid made several fine saves late in the match, but Hoesen volleyed in Diego Fagúndez’s corner kick. Driussi latched onto Hector Jimenez’s pass inside the six-yard box and Gabrielsen’s angled header off Fagúndez’s cross deflected off Hamid’s right hand and trickled into the net.

“It’s a shame that [after] that first half — which was our best half of soccer this year and felt like the times last year when we were playing at our best — you end up losing,” midfielder Russell Canouse said. “It’s frustrating for us, and I hate letting the fans getting disappointed with results like that after such a good first half.”

With United’s injuries, Hopkins figured to be in uniform, but the starting assignment came as a surprise. He had trained with the first team since the fall and played in preseason matches early this year, scoring against Miami.

Hopkins, who had planned to attend the University of Virginia this fall, was among five homegrowns in the lineup, joining Najar, Hamid, Donovan Pines and Chris Durkin.

Hopkins did gain pro experience (as an amateur) the previous two seasons playing for D.C.’s second-division squad, Loudoun United.

From the start Saturday, he did not look out of place, taking on defenders, getting into the penalty area and ripping an 18-yarder fractionally off-target.

United’s scoring drought ended in the 26th minute. Nearing the end line, Julian Gressel crossed to Najar on the back side for a centering header that Kamara snapped past Brad Stuver from 10 yards. He celebrated by removing his jersey to show a message written to his grandmother, who recently died, in his native Norwegian.

Video review nullified Austin’s gorgeous goal in the 32nd minute.

Eight minutes later, United extended the lead on a perfectly executed set piece.

Instead of serving a corner kick into the mix, Gressel dropped it back to Durkin, who returned the ball to Gressel for a low cross. From 14 yards, Kamara one-timed it with pace and precision into the right side of the net for his fourth goal of the year.

During a mad scramble, Austin’s Julio Cascante hit the crossbar from the doorstep.

Kamara’s terrific half ended on a sour note with a hard challenge, resulting in a second yellow card.

United lost Najar early in the second half to an apparent hamstring injury. Odoi-Atsem entered. Six minutes later, Odoi-Atsem left with a leg ailment. (He had been listed as questionable with a thigh injury.)

Fountas, who received his work visa this past week, entered in the 58th minute.

The night, though, was just getting started.

“Based on the game [performance]we won’t have any problems” recovering from the outcome, Losada said. “Based on the result, it’s tough, but we need to bounce back.”

Here’s what else to know about United’s loss:

Edison Flores and Michael Estrada — high-profile attackers who feature for the Peruvian and Ecuadoran national teams, respectively — began the game on the bench.

Flores, one of two designated players, has not met expectations since he arrived in 2020 and entered the night without a goal or assist this season. He has two goals and eight assists in 34 appearances (26 starts).

Estrada scored twice in the opener against Charlotte but missed the past two matches for family reasons.

Losada moved Najar from right-sided center back to left wing back to get him more involved in the attack. It worked. Pines made his first start of the year on the back line.

Left wing back Brad Smith, who started the first five matches, was held out for precautionary reasons.

Venezuelan goalkeeper Rafael Romo, who sources say has finalized a contract to back up Hamid, attended the match. He is awaiting a work visa and expected to become eligible in at least two weeks. Romo, 32, was Losada’s teammate at Belgian club Beerschot in 2017-18. Most recently he was with Leuven in Belgium.