Christian Benteke makes D.C. United dangerous, but it still draws, 0-0


Christian Benteke’s Audi Field debut Sunday was notable for a diving bid from close range, a penalty kick attempt and a powerful header. It was also momentous for the Belgian striker — fresh off 10 years in the Premier League and the intended solution to D.C. United’s scoring issues — failing to finish his chances.

Benteke was influential and dangerous. He made United better. Coach Wayne Rooney called him “a handful.” But in the biggest moments, Benteke came up empty during a 0-0 draw with the Colorado Rapids.

The biggest opportunity came in the 66th minute, when he failed to convert a penalty kick.

“It’s been a good night until I missed my penalty,” said Benteke, who made his MLS debut as a substitute Wednesday against New York City FC. “I was just missing that goal to have the perfect night.”

Rooney, a former Manchester United and English national team striker, empathized.

“I’ve missed a few penalties,” he said. “Messi and Ronaldo have missed penalties as well.”

Assessing the attempt, Rooney said, “It’s not the best penalty; it’s a good save as well.”

The inability to score — for the 13th time this season — pierced United’s chances of winning consecutive matches for the first time since the first two games of the campaign. United (7-17-5) has won once at home in the past 3½ months.

The goal-less effort, before an announced 16,502, came against a Colorado team (8-12-9) that had conceded 10 goals in the previous two matches.

Benteke did change D.C.’s look and approach, serving as a strong target man and drawing constant attention. With his back to the goal, he allowed the attack to build around him. Facing the target, he took on defenders and provided United with a menacing quality in the box.

“He showed a lot in what he can bring to the team,” Rooney said.

United dominated most of the first half, utilizing Martín Rodríguez’s prowess and Benteke’s presence to create danger in and around the penalty area. Goalkeeper William Yarbrough wasn’t tested, though.

Benteke missed a wonderful opportunity six minutes into the match, failing to put a diving header on target after Rodríguez expertly floated the ball into the box.

The second half was laborious for United, which couldn’t play at the same pace or with the same midfield effectiveness. Captain Steven Birnbaum crossed the yellow card threshold, resulting in a one-game suspension next weekend.

Then the madness started. In an aerial battle with Benteke in the box, Colorado defender Keegan Rosenberry (Georgetown) got his arm up and was whistled for a handball.

While the Rapids griped, pausing the game for about two minutes, Benteke waited. By the time he struck the penalty kick, Yarbrough seemed ready for it. He dived to his right and made a hand save.

A moment later, Benteke’s powerful six-yard header, off Rodríguez’s corner kick, streaked toward the top of the net. Felipe Gutíerrez, standing on the goal line, headed it away.

Other things weren’t going United’s way. Rodríguez left with a lower leg injury, and goalkeeper David Ochoa spilled a rebound in the six-yard box. Later, Colorado’s Gyasi Zardes redirected the ball narrowly wide.

In one harrowing sequence, United blocked three shots and survived another scare.

“We hung on in the end, which is a positive that we didn’t lose the game,” Rooney said. “A point in the end, you take it, but I’m still disappointed that we didn’t take all three.”

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

All-star attacker Taxi Fountas, United’s leading scorer with 11 goals, missed his second consecutive match with a concussion, suffered Aug. 28 in Atlanta.

Goalkeeper Rafael Romo (13 starts, 2.45 goals against average) was upgraded to questionable late in the week after recovering from a concussion but was not selected for the game day roster. Jon Kempin backed up Ochoa.

Bill Hamid (hand surgery June 30) is no longer on the injury list and is continuing to work on fitness and sharpness. He has not played since May 28.

Jonathan Benteke, Christian’s younger brother, signed with second-division Loudoun United. He made his debut Sunday, converting a late penalty kick during a 2-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Riverhounds in Leesburg.

Loudoun is his seventh club since 2013; he has spent time with England’s Crystal Palace (where he and his brother were teammates) and Oldham. Last season, he scored seven goals for Wegberg-Beeck in the German fourth division.

United will play three of the next four on the road, beginning Saturday against Real Salt Lake and continuing three days later in Kansas City, Kan. After a home date with Inter Miami on Sept. 18, D.C. will make its final trip of the season Oct. 1 to Montreal before closing Oct. 9 at home against Cincinnati.

Sunday began a stretch of three matches over three days at Audi Field. Monday will feature an NCAA men’s game between Maryland (1-1-1) and Virginia (2-1-0), starting at 6 p.m. On Tuesday, the U.S. women’s national team will make its Audi Field debut against Nigeria. Kickoff is set for 6:08 p.m.

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