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United working on chemistry

Nick Wass/AP D.C. United forward Rafael, right, managed two shots on goal Wednesday night but did not score.

D.C. United off to worst start since 2010 season

The first MLS minutes for D.C. United's biggest signing of the offseason couldn't have been more memorable. But despite Rafael's increasing playing time since his spectacular long-range goal against Columbus on March 23, he hasn't yet looked comfortable up front for a team in desperate need of attacking chemistry from players new and old.

The 20-year-old designated player made his first start as a lone striker while inconsistent Lionard Pajoy moved to the bench for the first time this season against Houston on Wednesday. But he managed just two shots, neither of them on goal, as United submitted in a 4-0 drubbing. At 1-7-1, D.C. is off to its worst start since losing eight of its first nine games in 2010.

United coach Ben Olsen, who preached patience when Rafael was acquired on loan from Bahia in the Brazilian Serie A, said the young striker was on schedule to take on a larger role. At a base salary of $220,000, as revealed by MLS Players Union figures released last week, he has the fifth-highest salary on the United payroll.

Up Next
D.C. United at FC Dallas
When » Saturday, 8:30 p.m.
Where » FC Dallas Stadium,
Frisco, Texas

"We've given him enough chances to get his feet wet," Olsen said. "I think he did some good things at times. He didn't get off enough shots, but I thought he did OK. He's a physical presence, and he holds the ball up at times. I think we're asking more of everybody out there."

In previous outings, Rafael often confused his runs with those of Pajoy. As a lone forward, he showed his ability to back into defenders and draw fouls, but he remains a long-term project for a team with immediate problems.

United playmaker Dwayne De Rosario, who is still in search of his first goal of the season, praised Rafael's effort even though he repeatedly came up one step short or ahead of the Brazilian's errant passes in the attacking third.

De Rosario himself was stymied by a double goal-line save by Dynamo defender Kofi Sarkodie. But he also inexplicably abdicated a golden free kick opportunity at the top of the penalty box in the second half, allowing Pajoy -- who had entered as a substitute -- to take the attempt.

"Yeah, I mean obviously, the switching in and out of forwards is difficult to build the rhythm and the chemistry," De Rosario said. "There's obviously the lack of communication. But I think [Rafael] worked hard. I think he could have gotten himself in better areas. I think he could have maybe done a little better with one or two chances in the second half, maybe a little bit more aggressive to the goal."

United also saw the return of midfielder Nick DeLeon for the first time since he was injured in the Columbus game, and midfielder Chris Pontius is on track to return against Western Conference-leading FC Dallas (6-1-3) on Saturday. The entire attack could do without the defensive mistakes that have led to 10 goals in three games.

"These are my guys so I don't want to be too critical, but we just can't do that to ourselves every game," De Rosario said. "Guys gotta really look in the mirror and take a gut check because this is our life. You've got to play with that passion, and I just don't see that consistently from everyone."