DC United off target in loss at Chicago as winless streak hits five

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As the front office continued an urgent search for roster help, DC United returned from a three-week layoff Saturday with a stronger defensive performance but another frail attacking effort in a 1-0 road defeat by the Chicago Fire at Soldier Field.

The summer transfer and trade window can’t come fast enough for United (4-8-2), which is winless in five straight and 1-4-2 over the past seven outings.

After considering 10 goals the previous four matches, DC made marked improvement. But in the 78th minute, Kacper Przybylko chipped the ball to substitute Fabian Herbers for a 15-yard header that kissed the right post. Goalkeeper Rafael Romo’s desperation swat failed to prevent the ball from crossing the goal line.

None of United’s 11 shots were on target as it suffered its third shutout in seven matches and fifth overall.

Coached by former United defender Ezra Hendrickson, Chicago (3-7-5) ended a 10-game winless streak and completed a season sweep after earning a 2-0 victory March 12 in Washington.

United was without four regulars: Goalkeeper Bill Hamid is recovering from an illness, and defender Brendan Hines-Ike served a yellow-card suspension. Attackers Edison Flores and Griffin Yow are the subject of transfer talks.

Flores, who was scheduled to return to Washington on Saturday from Peruvian national team duty, is being pursued by Mexican club Atlas, while Yow, 19, might end up with Belgium’s Westerlo.

Asked why the duo weren’t in Chicago, interim coach Chad Ashton said, “Those are questions for Dave Kasper,” United’s president of soccer operations and sporting director.

The resumption of the regular season came as United’s front office is heating up its pursuit of roster additions before the transfer and trade window opens July 7. United has been linked with Chilean winger Martin Rodríguez (Turkish club Altay), German midfielder Sonny Kittel (Hamburg) ) and French forward Thomas Henry (Venezia), among others.

“That’s the business side of this,” captain Steven Birnbaum said. “People are going to come and go, but right now, we’re focused on the group we have.”

The match marked the return of Andy Najar, an attack-minded defender who had been sidelined almost two months with a hamstring injury. United badly missed his unconventional style of making deep-lying runs and knocking opponents off-balance.

Taxi Fountas, United’s talented spring acquisition, also returned from a one-game absence caused by back spasms.

Neither had much impact on the match, played before an announced 17,650.

In the first half, Birnbaum missed a clear header deep in the box. “I’ve got to put away the one in the first half. That probably would’ve changed the game,” he said.

Romo made two quality saves and watched Chris Mueller’s angled drive, which might have been a cross, hit the back post.

United failed to test 18-year-old goalkeeper Gabriel Slonina, who is reportedly drawing transfer interest from the likes of Real Madrid and Chelsea.

Early in the second half, Boris Sekulic was fortunate to avoid a yellow (or red) card for a dangerous foul on Najar. Romo provided another gem, but DC’s attack continued to sputter.

Fountas (five goals, three assists in eight matches) did not enjoy much time on the ball in dangerous positions, but in the 71st minute, Ola Kamara’s cross set him up for a header that he pushed over the crossbar.

Ashton made his first changes in the 73rd minute, inserting midfielder Russell Canouse, forward Nigel Robertha and defender Tony Alfaro. The attack gained some traction in the second half but didn’t threaten.

Seven minutes of stoppage time were no help to United, which fell to 1-4-1 on the road.

“Overall, I feel very optimistic with how it looked in the second half,” Ashton said. “We’ve got to obviously put that together for an entire 90 [minutes]but it’s good that we got something moving in the right direction.”

Notes: Xherdan Shaqiri, MLS’s highest-paid player and Chicago’s top producer with three goals and six assists, missed the game with a thigh injury. ,

United will host Nashville SC (6-4-5) next Saturday at Audi Field. ,

With Hamid unavailable, Jon Kempin was recalled from a loan to second-division San Diego to back up Romo. ,

Center back Rio Hope-Gund (Georgetown) was summoned from second-flight Loudoun United to provide back-line cover. ,

Abdellatif Aboukoura, a 17-year-old attacker from DC’s youth academy, scored in the 32nd and 58th minutes as Loudoun (4-9-3) defeated Phoenix Rising, 4-3, in Leesburg. Sami Guediri and Tyler Freeman also scored in the second half for Loudoun (4-9-3) and the visitors (7-8-1) posted two late goals.

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