DC United wrestle with controversial red, Olsen doesn't sound panic alarm

WASHINGTON — D.C. United coach Ben Olsen didn’t directly protest referee Chris Penso’s dismissal of Luciano Acosta for a two-footed lunge at the Philadelphia Union’s Ilsinho on Saturday night.

Still, Olsen suggested Penso shared some blame for a moment that catalyzed D.C.’s unraveling in a 4-0 loss that matched the worst home result in club history.

“I don’t have issues with the red card itself,” Olsen said. “I did think he had a poor night. It’s just a crapshoot of how these guys are going to ref a game. That’s not only certainly on the referee tonight, but I don’t think he was good, if you’re asking me that.”

Acosta’s challenge appeared to result from frustration that a foul had not been called on Oguchi Onyewu’s challenge moments before, one that sent the Argentine playmaker tumbling.

Penso had produced two cautions to Philadelphia players by the ninth minute, but Olsen appeared to believe more should have been done.

“Stuff builds throughout the game and then things happen because referees sometimes don’t understand the game,” Olsen said. “I didn’t think he had a pulse of the game. I thought it was very inconsistent and that can lead to frustration. It’s not an excuse for Lucho to whack a guy.”

The game was still 1-0 when Acosta left but 10-man United lost realistic hope of a comeback nine minutes later when Onyewu’s header doubled the Union’s lead.

That began the onslaught that left United scoreless with a minus-5 goal differential through two matches of a three-match homestand — which concludes when Bastian Schweinsteiger and the Chicago Fire visit RFK next Saturday.

D.C. has now been shut out in six matches and holds a minus-9 goal differential. Sill, Olsen does not yet see the need for dramatic change.

“We have a good group. We’ve got to play better. We’ve got to coach better,” the D.C. coach said. “I’ll let you know when it’s panic time. We’re certainly very far away from that.”

Even early at even strength, United looked back on their heels despite forward Patrick Mullins’ first start since March and defender Steve Birnbaum’s return from the league's concussion protocol.

On the plus side, Birnbaum in particular made some impressive interventions during an opening half in which he played outside back. Like his coach, he insisted everything changed once United started playing down a man — and without their creative engine.

“The red card hurt us,” Birnbaum said. “That changed the whole game. We were chasing the game at that point.”