With DC United missing as many as five first team regulars and coming off their first four game home losing streak in team history, a defensively sound effort spearheaded United to their first shutout victory of the season.
Luciano Emilio's 11th goal of the season in the 28th minute was more than enough to garner Zach Wells' first MLS shutout for United. Wells made eight saves on the evening and displayed a real aggressive posture in goal often cutting out dangerous opportunities by coming off his line quickly.
The new found confidence spurred on a defensive effort seldom seen this season by United. Although they did give up a lot of shots on goal, United did well to snuff out attacks well before they became dangerous. With a makeshift backline due to the injury to Gonzalo Peralta and the red card suspension of Gonzalo Martinez, Head coach Tom Soehn was forced to play rookie Pat Carroll centrally with Devon McTavish. "One of the things he (Carroll) did better today was when he won the ball he was clean and he made sure he that the balls were played into Jaime [Moreno]’s feet and Luci [Emilio]’s feet. He competed hard. He did a great job today. But again that’s the experience we’re talking about. He’s put in some tough spots but he’s grown. You start learning a lot about your young guys," Soehn said of his rookie defender.
Also complicating matters was Soehn's decision to play two holding midfielders in newby Joe Vide and Clyde Simms. That left United without a playmaker in midfield as newcomer Ivan Guerrero patrolled the left flank and Fred moved over to his more comfortable right side.
The unstable lineup for United played that way early on in the match but Wells came up big with two saves in the 14th minute that set the tone for the evening. Kansas City defender Jack Jewsbury mis-hit a cross that knuckled "about 15 feet," according to Wells. Wells got a fingertip on the ball and sent it over the goal for a corner. On the ensuing kick, Jewsbury latched onto a free ball in the box and sent it towards goal only to have Wells diving effort save the shot. "It kind of redirected into my gut. I kind of knew at that point what kind of night it was going to be for me" said Wells after the match.
Spurred on by the pair of saves United started to get their feet under them. Guerrero was starting to get loose down the left hand side and causing all kinds of problems for Jewsbury and Claudio Lopez, a striker moved to the right side of midfield for the evening.
In the 28th minute United got their first lead in a match since their game winning goal against the Chicago Fire in their US Open Cup quarterfinal on July 8th. A long ball was sent over the top and Guerrero beat Jewsbury in the air to nod the ball down at the feed of Jaime Moreno. Moreno side stepped a Kansas City defender and lasered a precise ball into the feet of Luciano Emilio. The Brazilian's first touch back towards the middle of the box gave him enough space to elude Kansas City captain Jimmy Conrad and sent a ball past Kevin Hartman for a 1-0 lead that sent the crowd of 18,731 into rapture at RFK.
The goal really seemed to unravel the usually efficient Kansas City defense. "I thought we played a lackadaisical, not very sharp first half. I thought D.C. was by far the better team the first 45 minutes, so I was extremely disappointed in the first 45 minutes of play. Second half, I thought we came out very strong," said Kansas City head coach Curt Onalfo. Kansas City still managed two more shots on goal but Wells was up to the task. In fact, United should have had a two goal lead heading into the break but not for the quick thinking of KC goalkeeper Kevin Hartman.
The play started on the left flank and ended up with an exquisite give and go with Emilio that sent Moreno in on goal. Hartman was wise to the situation and quickly shot off his goal line to force Moreno to chip over him only to see the Bolivian's shot carom off the post.
The second half saw Kansas City turn up the pressure on the short handed home side. Mere seconds after the whistle started the second half Davy Arnaud weaved his way through United's midfield and unleashed a rasping drive ticketed for the near side upper corner only to see the shot palmed away by the alert Wells. That was easily his best save of the night. "I thought ‘finally’. Finally. It was a long time coming," said Wells.
United sealed the match however in the 60th minute with a rare goal from a set piece. Marc Burch curled a free kick over the wall and Moreno's glancing header eluded the outstretched arms of Hartman to give Moreno his seventh goal of the season and United the 2-0 win. Said Marc Burch of the play, "Jaime’s good at headers, he’s good at flicking balls in. He had one in the first half that he almost flicked in. He made a good run and I was working a little bit [during the week] on getting the ball by the first guy and finally Jaime flicked one and it went in."
United played out the rest of the match by putting numbers behind the ball and springing the occasional counterattack. It was evident though that United would finally get the monkey off their backs and get Wells his first shutout of the campaign. "We’re just trying to get better every week and as a team we worked really well together. We were organized in the back. We played our guts out and it showed," said a clearly relieved Wells in the locker room.
Next up for United is a visit to the Meadowlands on August 10th to take on New York Red Bulls. Just two days later is United's very important US Open Cup semi-final matchup with New England at RFK. Tom Soehn will have some decisions to make about whom to play and not to play. The importance of winning the Open Cup clearly is on his mind. "Marc Burch is going to play a lot of minutes [against New York] because he can’t play in the Open Cup game. But we’re getting some guys back. I joked around today that there was a herd of guys running around the field getting healthy. It’s nice to see that we’re making progress on some of those guys and it will give us a few options. Obviously we’re going to have to be careful not to rush them back. Their fitness is going to struggle. Some of our young guys now gained some valuable experiences for situations just like this."