When Minnesota United has had its first-choice team available this year, the Loons have had success. When they've been forced to use their depth, and to adapt their game plan to the personnel available, they have struggled.

And so it was against D.C. United on Wednesday night, as Minnesota lost 3-1 at Audi Field.

The Loons were missing all-star midfielder Emanuel Reynoso, who was being rested after dealing with some hamstring issues last Saturday, amid a stretch of three games in eight days. Defensive midfielder Ozzie Alonso, who has been a key figure in recent solid defensive performances, was being rested, as well.

It meant that the Loons tried out a five-man defense instead of their usual four-man back line. "We knew we wanted to play direct tonight and catch them," said Brent Kallman, the extra center back in the lineup. "We made it more difficult than it had to be – particularly when we had the ball, we couldn't hold it."

Against the new-look defense, the high-pressing, high-energy D.C. attack created chance after chance, and earned two penalty kicks. Minnesota's chances, meanwhile, were few and far between.

"You can play with three at the back, five at the back, 4-3-3, 4-2-3-1, but then you have to compete," said manager Adrian Heath."I thought they were better with the ball, and better without it. When you're not good with it, and you don't compete without it, you're going to struggle to win games."

It took D.C. 23 minutes to find its first goal, from the penalty spot. Right back Andy Najar cut inside and fell over Chase Gasper's outstretched leg. The contact was minimal, but referee Ramy Touchan pointed to the penalty spot. Striker Ola Kamara, MLS's leading scorer, tucked home the penalty to make the game 1-0, his 17th goal of the season.

Despite the struggles, with five minutes to go in the first half, Minnesota found an equalizer from a set piece. Franco Fragapane swung in a dangerous free kick from the right side of the field, and defender Bakaye Dibassy found himself open for a glancing header just inside the far post.

BOXSCORE: D.C. United 3, Loons 1

You could sense the Loons were trying simply to reach halftime, but in the final minute of the first half, D.C. went ahead again. Dibassy and Gasper trailed Kamara all the way out to the sideline, but Dibassy went down clutching his ankle, leaving Kamara free to run down the open left side of the Loons defense. His run pulled Kallman out, leaving acres of space for a pass to D.C. winger Julian Gressel, who buried the open chance to make the game 2-1.

D.C. came into the game having earned eight penalty kicks on the year, two more than any other team, and early in the second half they earned their second of the game. This time, though, Kamara could not convert, rolling a tame penalty near the center of the goal that goalkeeper Tyler Miller easily smothered.

D.C. wrapped up the game five minutes from the end. A turnover gave midfielder Junior Moreno a chance to shoot from outside the penalty area. His shot might have been going wide, but it hit Minnesota midfielder Joseph Rosales and looped past a wrong-footed Miller and into the net.

The Star Tribune did not travel for this event. This article was written using the television broadcast and video interviews before and/or after the event.