United hope to have left set piece misery behind them

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WASHINGTON – While numerous injuries and a pair of disappointing draws have cast a frustrated tinge on D.C. United’s month of August, perhaps nothing has been more maddening for D.C.’s players than a recent string of set piece mistakes.

In five of the club’s six matches last month, United allowed a goal resulting from a restart (including the strike by Montreal’s Marco Di Vaio immediately after a throw-in). Perhaps no set-piece goal against D.C. hurt more than Wilman Conde’s off-footed strike in the 88th minute of Wednesday’s 2-2 draw against New York at RFK Stadium.

“We’ve just got to try and figure out some things inside the box and, as with the second goal [Wednesday], certain things outside the box,” said United goalkeeper Bill Hamid. “We’ve got to stay with our men, we can’t get lazy, we can’t tune out. Those are things we’ve gotten better on, we’ve fixed, but every once in a while it’s hurting us.”

Red Bulls midfielder Dax McCarty crossed a ball that was cleared by D.C.’s Perry Kitchen, but fell to Conde, who settled and blasted the ball by Hamid from roughly 22 yards out.

“Maybe the ball could have been cleared out toward the end line instead of toward the middle. You never really want to clear the ball toward the middle. You have players there looking to shoot,” said D.C. center back Dejan Jakovic. “But it’s part of the game. It happens. It’s a tough one.”

Captain Dwayne De Rosario seconded Jakovic’s frustration.

“The last five or six games, we’ve been giving up goals on set pieces,” he said. “We’ve really got to limit that. Someone’s got to commit themselves. Dive in front of the ball, jump in front of the ball, whatever the case is.”

Of D.C.’s set-piece allowances in August, two resulted from corner kicks (Conde and Sporting Kansas City’s Teal Bunbury), two from free kicks (Philadelphia’s Brian Carroll and Chicago’s Gonzalo Segares) and Di Vaio’s from the throw-in.

In United’s defense, there have been many shifting parts in the starting XI throughout August, especially along the back line. In the side’s previous five matches, Brandon McDonald and Chris Korb are the only two defenders to start every time, with Kitchen the only midfielder to start all five.

“That’s straight basics. Communication and staying with your man. I think the guys know that and that’s why they kind of kick themselves,” said defender Robbie Russell, who has returned to training after missing the last seven matches with plantar fasciitis. “They get so down on themselves when they give up those kinds of goals because they know it’s something we need to focus on. Sometimes knowing there’s a problem is the first step, so hopefully we can have every game be a little bit better.”

United’s next chance to sure up defending following a stoppage comes Saturday when the team travels to Rio Tinto Stadium to face Real Salt Lake (9 pm ET; watch LIVE online).