Another night of heroics by Louis Crayton, alas, came on another night of disappointment Wednesday, as United held Honduran club Marathon at bay in a scoreless first half but succumbed twice thereafter to lose, 2-0, in San Pedro Sula and drop to the bottom of Concacaf Champions' League Group A at 0-2.
Former MLS target Milton Nunez and Erick Norales scored classy goals as Marathon outclassed their American opponents, who resisted desperately yet sorely lacked the guile of Jaime Moreno and Marcelo Gallardo, both injured, in the attacking third.
Thabisco Khumalo, Fred and Luciano Emilio moved the ball upfield effectively at times, only to lack nerve and polish with their decisive touches.
Marathon wasted a few of its chances, too, but created so many others Crayton had to bound and fly about his goalmouth alertly.
The propensity of a few Marathon players to flop at the slightest contact clearly frustrated United, as did the tricky Marvin Antonio Chavez. He worked the right side almost exclusively, carving up United's back line with his runs, dribbles, and through balls into the channels.
Crayton just got a glove to a redirected shot by former MLS player Saul Martinez and needed teammate Craig Thompson to bail him out when Martinez raced onto a Chavez pass, rounded the keeper, and shot low. While racing back toward his goal Thompson got a leg on the shot and deflected it onto the goalpost.
Also during a pell-mell first half Nunez beat the defense but blasted his shot over the crossbar, and Mario Rene Barrios fired a shot from a sharp angle that Crayton fisted to safety.
Khumalo did buzz up the right side early in the second half but after veering inside a defender he shot over the bar from the edge of the penalty area. Sustained possession produced several promising buildups, only for Marathon's speed and precision to exploit a counterattack out of the blue.
In the 67th minute, with United still clinging to hopes of a goalless point, Chavez dribbled the ball laterally along the penalty-area line and lost out to a Gonzalo Martinez tackle, but Nunez collected it, dodged around a lunging Marc Burch, and drilled a right-footed shot past Crayton inside the far post.
Deprived of his best attacking options, United coach Tom Soehn brought on Gonzalo Peralta, Ryan Cordeiro and Quavas Kirk as the minutes ticked by to little effect. Marathon notched its second six minutes from time when Norales got his head to a free kick and his looping header easily cleared Crayton before bouncing off the inside of the far post.
United's long march continues Sunday in Texas against FC Dallas, after which it returns to RFK Stadium for a pair of must-win games: Wednesday against Cruz Azul in the CCL, and Oct. 4 against Chivas USA.
It has a keeper for the future, but much else needs revaluating. Staying alive in both competitions for as along as possible will aid that process.
USL UNDEFEATED RUN. The Montreal Impact 0-0 tie with Mexico's Atlante extended USL teams' unbeaten streak in Concacaf Champions League to eight games, including preliminary round play. On Tuesday, the Puerto Rico Islanders beat Mexican champion Santos, 3-1.
Montreal outshot Atlante, 9-5, but failed to convert, leaving it tied with the Mexicans with four points atop Group C -- one point ahead of Honduras' Olimpia of Honduras, which won, 3-1, in Trinidad against Joe Public.
"Maybe we can bring soccer to Canada in February for the first time ever and play in the snow," said Montreal midfielder Sandro Grande.
The knockout stage kicks off in February with the quarterfinals. The final is in April.
Stefano Pesoli and Tony Donatelli came close to scoring for Montreal.
Montreal plays at Olimpia on Oct. 1 and Atlante hosts Joe Public in Cancun Oct. 2.