The teen phenom’s promise will have to wait another day, as DC United franchise legend Jaime Moreno stepped up in his return with a goal and an assist in a 2-1 win against 2003 MLS Cup champions San Jose before a capacity crowd of 24,603 Saturday afternoon.
While 14-year old Freddy Adu played the last 29 minutes of the match without much impact, Moreno, returning to DC United after an injury-plagued season with the MetroStars, was active throughout the match and seemed to have recovered his finishing form.
Moreno should probably be credited with an assist on his first goal, as he drew a foul about 25-yards left of goal. Midfielder Earnie Stewart expertly served a free kick to the center of the box, where Moreno rose and headed the ball past San Jose goalkeeper Pat Onstad to the right corner of the goal, giving United the early lead.
San Jose did not wait long to get level the match. In the 19th minute, DC United goalkeeper Nick Rimando, coming back from an ACL tear, was judged to have fouled Brian Mullan while coming off his line to punch a ball clear. Ronnie Ekelund stepped up and buried the spot kick to the upper left corner past Rimando despite the United goalkeeper reading it correctly.
Two minutes later, Bobby Convey took off on a 60-yard run which forced Eddie Robinson to take him down to prevent a scoring opportunity. Though nothing resulted of the free kick, Robinson was booked for the foul. Convey was not without unimpeded chances, however. In the 50th minute, receiving a long ball out of the back which stunned Onstad, Convey dribbled around the Earthquakes’ keeper and, with an open net, calmly tapped his shot off the outside of the post and wide of the target.
“I thought it was going in,” Convey said. “It looked like it was going in to me, and then it just hit the post. It’s just one of those times or whatever. You can’t think back on it. Obviously I want to score, but I’m happy we won, and that’s what matters.” Convey said he wanted to “be more of a veteran on the team, not just be a guy who runs up and down the wing.”
United, with Moreno and Alecko Eskandarian partnering up top, showed they were going to make up for the lack of scoring by forwards last season, as both had a high work rate throughout the match. The two combined for what proved to be the match-winner in the 39th minute. Moreno chipped a pass through to Eskandarian, who on one bounce shot with his left-foot past Onstad from 12-yards to the right corner. Eskandarian on his goal celebration revealed a t-shirt honoring the late Nicole Megaloudis–she passed away February 9 in a car accident–the step-daugther of former DC United coach Thomas Rongen.
“She was a dear friend of mine, probably the closest thing I ever had to a sister,” Eskandarian said, adding that “[the] goal tonight was dedicated to her, for sure. She’s sorely missed, and it’s the least I could do for the family.”
Talking about the goal itself, Eskandarian said that he and Moreno made eye contact, and Moreno got the ball to him in stride before finishing.
With every United miss in the second half came louder chants for Adu, who entered the match in the 61st minute for Eskandarian. The complexion of the match changed in San Jose’s favor after he came in; however, Adu showed a nice passing touch and wasn’t afraid to get physical despite his diminutive size. On minimal contact with Jeff Agoos, though, he went down and was admonished by Stott to keep playing. Mostly, though, he looked like a nervous teenager playing his first professional match, and played mostly as a lone forward while United sought to protect their one-goal advantage.
San Jose, though threatening on crosses into the box, never found their rhythm and were limited to just two shots on goal for the match, though Ekelund shot inches wide of the left post in the 44th minute.
The three-man defense of Mike Petke on the left, captain Ryan Nelsen in the center and Bryan Namoff on the right neutralized the Earthquakes attacking duo of Dwayne DeRosario and Landon Donovan. United’s five man midfield–with Convey and Stewart on the flanks, and Brian Carroll, Dema Kovalenko and Ben Olsen in the center of the midfield, did the same with their Earthquakes counterparts of Ekelund, Richard Mulrooney, Brian Mullan and Ian Russell. Convey, once Adu came into the match, started to float off the wing a bit more.
Donovan’s only shot of the match was a blistering 18-yarder in the 65th minute that forced a Rimando reflex save.
“There’s no game-plan on Landon,” Nelsen said. “Cause they’ve got Dwayne, and he’s a fantastic player, and Brian Ching coming off the bench, who’s another great player. There’s nothing really specific. We kept him quiet, thank God, because we all know what he can do. He’s an unbelievably great player, so I’m glad he had a quiet game today.”
The physical match left referee Kevin Stott seeing red–twice within four minutes. Craig Weibel, after a hard take down of Moreno near the United bench, received his marching orders in the 76th minute, while Kovalenko was sent off for an elbow to Mullan’s face, as the two teams played the last 10 minutes (plus four more minutes of stoppage time) 10 versus 10.
Novak, who won in his coaching debut, showed a willingness to mix new players with veterans. He gave Carroll his first start as a defensive midfielder, started Eskandarian–used sparingly in 2003 by former coach Ray Hudson–and, late in the match, brought in rookie midfielder Josh Gros and defender David Stokes, making his first MLS appearance for United after only seeing U.S. Open Cup action last season.
“With the season I had last year, I was so disappointed,” Eskandarian said. “It was kind of unfair the way everything transpired that I had to prove to myself, to all my fans and to my critics tonight. I was just glad that Peter gave me the start and the opportunity to prove myself,” also noting that “I’ve been looking forward to this day pretty much since last season. I didn’t get the opportunity to play much last year and it was very hard for me to sit on the bench and watch other people.”
Rimando started the match after coming off a torn ACL, and Moreno, in earning player of the match honors, showed why he was worth reacquiring from the MetroStars after an injury-plagued season there.
United, if not for wasted opportunities, could have put away at least two or three more opportunities, as the usually sharp Onstad was shaky. However, United was a more energetic and lively side today than in all of 2003, which bodes well for their upcoming road match against the high-powered LA Galaxy.
“We’re just excited to be out there playing,” Eskandarian said of the new insertions in the lineup. “We know we’re a good team, so we know we can win. That’s an unbelievable feeling.”
Nelsen noted the crowd and energy, but wants them to come back not just for Adu’s promise, but also the promise of better soccer from DC United.
“When you play in front of (nearly) 25,000, a crowd like that,” Nelsen said, “we want to prove a point not just to the fans who come out to maybe see Freddy, we want them to come out and see DC United come out and play a good brand of soccer and I think from the defense to the midfield to, especially up front, who were fantastic today, I think we proved a point.”
DC United 2–0—-2
San Jose 1–0—–1
DC — Jaime Moreno 1 (Earnie Stewart 1) 12
SJ — Ronnie Ekelund 1 (penalty kick) 19
DC — Alecko Eskandarian 1 (Jaime Moreno 1) 39
San Jose Earthquakes — Pat Onstad, Craig Waibel, Jeff Agoos, Eddie Robinson, Ramiro Corrales, Brian Mullan, Ronnie Ekelund (Brian Ching 74), Richard Mulrooney, Ian Russell (Arturo Alvarez 86), Dwayne De Rosario (Jamil Walker 81), Landon Donovan. Substitutes Not Used: Jon Conway, Wes Hart.
TOTAL SHOTS: 8 (Ronnie Ekelund 3); SHOTS ON GOAL: 2 (Landon Donovan 1, Ronnie Ekelund 1); FOULS: 14 (Eddie Robinson 3); OFFSIDE: 3 (Landon Donovan 2); CORNERS: 4 (Ramiro Corrales 2, Richard Mulrooney 2); SAVES: 5 (Pat Onstad 5)
DC United — Nick Rimando, Bryan Namoff, Ryan Nelsen, Mike Petke, Earnie Stewart, Brian Carroll, Dema Kovalenko, Ben Olsen, Bobby Convey (David Stokes 89), Alecko Eskandarian (Freddy Adu 61), Jaime Moreno (Joshua Gros 85). Substitutes Not Used: Kevin Ara, Ronald Cerritos, Troy Perkins, Brandon Prideaux, Doug Warren.
TOTAL SHOTS: 11 (Alecko Eskandarian 3, Earnie Stewart 3); SHOTS ON GOAL: 7 (Alecko Eskandarian 2, Earnie Stewart 2); FOULS: 25 (Ben Olsen 7); OFFSIDE: 1 (Bobby Convey 1); CORNERS: 2 (Bobby Convey 2); SAVES: 1 (Nick Rimando 1)
SJ — Eddie Robinson (caution; Professional Foul) 21
SJ — Dwayne De Rosario (caution; Deliberate Handball) 23
SJ — Craig Waibel (ejection; Serious Foul Play) 76
DC — Dema Kovalenko (ejection; Violent Conduct) 80
DC — Ben Olsen (caution; Reckless Foul) 89
Referee: Kevin Stott
Referee’s Assistants: Craig Lowry; Greg Barkey
4th Official: Michael Kennedy
Time of Game: 1:51
Weather: Partly Cloudy-and-53-degrees.