D.C. United gets key point in scoreless draw at Charlotte FC

CHARLOTTE — D.C. United is running out of time to earn the points needed to secure an MLS playoff berth — and has less of it than the league’s 28 other teams. That’s why, in United’s quest for its first postseason berth in four years, its 0-0 draw with Charlotte FC on Saturday night was a small but valuable prize.

United (9-12-8) extended its unbeaten and shutout streaks to three before an announced 36,101 at Bank of America Stadium. Alex Bono, who inherited the goalkeeping job when Tyler Miller was hurt last month, has not conceded a goal in four starts this year.

“It’s a good point,” Coach Wayne Rooney said. “It keeps us on track in what we’re looking to do.”

Because there are an odd number of teams in the league, one must sit out Decision Day, Oct. 21 — the final day of the regular season, when every Eastern Conference game will kick off simultaneously. (The same setup applies to the Western Conference.) And because MLS will pause its schedule (except for two games) the previous weekend for international matches, United will complete its 34-game campaign Oct. 7, two weeks before everyone else.

Nine teams in each conference advance to the playoffs. Amid a congested group of contenders, United stands ninth, two points ahead of Chicago. Saturday’s draw was important for United because it kept the visitors three points ahead of Charlotte (7-9-11), which has two games in hand. Chicago, which played to a scoreless draw Saturday at Montreal, has played one fewer match than United.

Saturday also began a stretch of three games in eight days for United, which will host Atlanta United on Wednesday and welcome the New York Red Bulls to Audi Field next Saturday. The closing stretch features trips to Vancouver on Sept. 30 and Austin on Oct. 4 and a home game against New York City FC on Oct. 7.

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A week after going scoreless at home against San Jose, United squandered three high-quality chances in the first eight minutes.

A minute had not yet passed when Christian Benteke dummied José Fajardo’s cross, leaving the ball for Mateusz Klich, whose 17-yarder missed the short side. Fajardo squandered a free run after collecting Benteke’s flick, and Klich didn’t do anything with a clear, 16-yard bid.

“We have to be clinical in those moments because that’s what gets you going home with three points,” Rooney said. “Really good chances, so it’s a shame.”

Seconds after Klich’s second miss, Bono made a wondrous recovery on Brandt Bronico’s deflected shot, reaching back to push the ball off the post.

“You just kind of hope you did your shoulder exercises and you get that extra inch out of your arm,” Bono said.

He still had to worry about the ball rolling into the net.

“I was dying,” he said. “Whenever you see something like that in a movie, it’s slow motion. And it’s no different in real life.”

The deflection had come off D.C. defender Donovan Pines — first his foot and then his arm. Video replay was used, but referee Jon Freemon did not award a penalty kick.

“It would have been harsh, but you’ve seen them called before,” Bono said. “And so I was a little surprised when he didn’t give it to them.”

United’s direct play — Benteke was the target of long balls — allowed Charlotte to parlay superior possession into persistent pressure. Timely intervention in the box by D.C. midfielder Chris Durkin foiled a threat, and his teammates kept their poise.

United began the second half almost as well as the first. In the 56th minute, Éric Davis’s cross found Benteke for a seven-yard header that smacked the crossbar. Ten minutes later, Charlotte goalkeeper Kristijan Kahlina used his face to block Benteke’s close-range bid.

Down the stretch, both teams menaced the box but did not test the keepers.

“It’s the minimum we needed to get,” Benteke said. “We wanted to get the three points. It was a 50-50 game at times, but I felt we had some chances. Now at this stage, every point counts, and we’re going to take this point.”

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

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Center back Steven Birnbaum missed the match with a hip injury suffered in training Thursday. He traveled with the team but did not pass a fitness test. With Birnbaum out, Benteke wore the captain’s armband.

Derrick Williams (calf) missed his second consecutive match, leaving United without two usual starting defenders.

Miller is out for the season with shoulder and rib injuries. The shoulder ailment will require surgery. Bono started his third consecutive match.

Forward Ted Ku-DiPietro (thigh) and wing back Andy Najar (hamstring) were not healthy enough to start, but they entered in the 74th and 84th minutes, respectively.

The MLS roster deadline passed quietly Wednesday, with few moves around the league. United stood pat. Only free agents were available; the transfer and trade window closed Aug. 2.

“I knew nothing was going to come of it,” Rooney said of the roster deadline. “It may well have been up a couple of weeks ago for me.”

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