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Alen Stevanovic, left, of Toronto FC tries to curl a shot at goal despite pressure from DC United's Chris Korb in the first half. ((Chris Young/Canadian Press))

Slow starts continue to doom Toronto FC.

The Reds stumbled out of the gate yet again Saturday night, giving up a pair of early goals and never recovering in a dismal 3-0 loss to visiting D.C. United before an announced crowd of 16,313 spectators at BMO Field.

Toronto was reduced to 10 men in the 49th minute when defender Ty Harden earned a controversial red card.

The Reds (now with a 1-2-3 season record) were unbeaten in their previous six home matches, a streak dating back to Sept. 25, 2010. Saturday's result was also TFC's first loss since the season opener on March 19 in Vancouver, and ended the team's four-game unbeaten streak (one win, three ties).

The opening 20 minutes have been the bane of the Reds' existence this season, with coach Aron Winter recently commenting he hoped it would not become a trend.

It would seem that ship has long set sail from dock.

Some comical defending saw D.C. jump out to a 2-0 lead after only 10 minutes, effectively putting the game beyond the Reds' meagre reach.

More worrying was how TFC responded.

Stuck in quicksand

A spirited fight back was required, but the Reds looked as though they were stuck in quicksand. There was no spring in their steps, no sense of urgency, no running off the ball, no cohesion.

Nothing.

"The way we lost, I didn't like it because you can lose a game, but I always want to see a reaction from my players," Winter admitted.

D.C. outmuscled and outworked Toronto in the midfield, effectively cutting off the service to forward Maicon Santos, who was back in the starting lineup after sitting out the last game with the flu.

Only after Harden was sent off did TFC suddenly spring to life, but by then it was too late.

"In the second half with 10 men, we we're playing better than in the first half with 11, and that makes me upset," Winter stated.

Toronto has seen huge player turnover since Winter took over in January, with the Dutch coach repeatedly saying it's going to take time to turn things around.

Fair enough. But if this game is a harbinger of things to come, it's going to be another long season for the team's already frustrated fan base.

"We need time," reaffirmed Winter. "I can't say [it will take] a month, two months or three months. We need time. It could also be a year because we are rebuilding."

It took D.C. five minutes to breach Toronto's defence. Chris Pontius capitalized on a poor clearance and breezed by right fullback Jacob Peterson before beating goalkeeper Stefan Frei with a low shot that nestled inside the far post.

D.C. doubled its advantage five minutes later. Another giveaway by the Toronto defence, this time by Danleigh Borman, saw Charlie Davies scoop up a rebound and score his league-leading fifth goal of the campaign.

TFC's woes were compounded when Adrian Cann suffered bruised ribs on the play and had to leave the game. Nana Attakora took his place in the centre of defence alongside Harden.

A dire opening 45 minutes from the Reds saw them booed off the field by the crowd when referee Mark Kadlecik blew the halftime whistle.

The hometown supporters had more cause to voice their displeasure when Harden was ejected early in the second half for a foul on Pontius. While Harden deserved to be cautioned, Kadlecik should not have brandish a red card as the TFC defender was not the last man back.

Toronto immediately responded and enjoyed a decent stretch of possession, but any hope of a comeback was dashed in the 73rd minute. Julian de Guzman was easily stripped of the ball inside his half, and a streaking Pontius curled a shot by Frei.

Attakora said he and his teammates have to take responsibility for another dreadful start to the match.

"We have to look at ourselves and how we prepare," opined Attakora. "We need to identify what the problem is and sort it out real quick."

NOTES: Injured TFC forward Alan Gordon missed his second consecutive game … The Reds bolstered their defence Friday, acquiring Richard Eckersley on loan from English club Burnley. Eckersley did not dress Saturday … Midfielder Oscar Cordon, an 18-year-old Toronto native and product of TFC's youth academy, made his first start for the club … United sports a 4-2-0 record at BMO Field … Toronto's next game is April 23 at home vs. Columbus.