Except for two glaring mistakes, one of which led to a Chicago Fire goal, DC United’s patchwork defense held up, and a first half tap-in from veteran defender Mike Petke off a set-piece was enough to scratch out a 1-1 tie before 19,052 at RFK Stadium.
Gomez’s right-footed free kick from the left sideline fell to Petke at the far post, and he was able to poke the ball into the right corner just before Chicago goalkeeper Zach Thornton could get to it.
"My mark kind of took his eye off of me, and I just kept going," Petke said. "[The ball] slipped through, kind of bounced twice, and just toe-poked it in."
Midfielder Steve Guppy, whose service last night Nowak called "amazing", was set to take the free kick, but opted to have Gomez take it.
"I was going to swing it in, but to be honest, Christian takes a great in-swinging corner, where I’d be swinging out the other way. I was going to take it, but he changed his mind at the last minute; he wanted to take it, that was fine by me, and it worked."
Three minutes earlier, United had an excellent goal-scoring opportunity off a Guppy corner from the right side, but Thornton was in perfect position to save Alecko Eskandarian’s header from point-blank range. Eskandarian said he is not "exactly where I want to be," but said he’s confident he can work through his finishing troubles.
"If you don’t finish your chances, like Alecko had in the first half and the second half, you’re not going to win games," said United coach Peter Nowak. "You’re going to get punished."
That’s exactly what impressive Fire rookie Chris Rolfe did to United with his 50th minute goal.
Rolfe, starting his first MLS match, took advantage of a breakdown in the United back line. Ivan Guerrero, from near midfield, swung a left-footed cross near the top of the 18-yard box for Rolfe, whose 14-yard shot beat United goalkeeper Nick Rimando to the left corner.
"This kid, he’s got real clear ideas," said Fire coach Dave Sarachan of the 5’8", 145 pound Rolfe. "He moves well. He’s got a great idea with the ball and a good first touch. Through preseason and all the way through ’til now, when he’s in front of goal he generally gets shots on goal. He’s becoming more of a clinical type finisher in the bit we have had him so we felt he needed to be on the field tonight and we were rewarded with a goal."
Petke accepted blame for the breakdown.
"If it wasn’t offside, it was probably my fault," Petke said. "I was screaming at [David Stokes and Bobby Boswell] on my team to get on [Rolfe], wide open in the middle, and the next thing I know, the ball was behind me, so I kind of took my eye off the play to get these two guys in order, and the next thing I know, he’s through. When I turned around, the ball wasn’t even at him yet, and he was so far ahead of us that either he’s Carl Lewis, or he’s offside. I don’t know. I have to see the replay. It seemed like offside."
The goal came just two minutes after Rimando denied Andy Herron’s breakaway attempt after Boswell, starting his third consecutive match as the team’s central defender, did not have his feet planted, then the ball and Herron skipped by him.
Herron left the match after injuring his left foot in the 53rd minute. He will be reevaluated upon returning to Chicago. Matt Pickens, meanwhile, had to come in for Thornton to start the second half after the robust goalkeeper suffered a strained oblique muscle.
Neither team could find the target in the match’s late stages, though United inserted three attacking players–Freddy Adu, Santino Quaranta and Jamil Walker–in an effort to get the match-winner.
United, using the same lineup as they did against UNAM Pumas Wednesday in their first-leg Champions Cup semifinal, got off to slow starts in both halves–something that continues to concern Nowak–as Chicago controlled play in the opening minutes of each.
The Fire sought to isolate Justin Mapp on the left against United defender David Stokes, little used until this season. The Fire had four shots in the opening five minutes, but none after until Herron’s, while United did not attempt a shot until Jaime Moreno’s 14th minute effort that Thornton nearly bobbled into his own net. Thornton did much better in parrying an 18-yard drive by Josh Gros in the 26th minute. Moreno later had a 60th minute blast denied by the crossbar.
"I thought … we came out with the right energy and put them on their heels early," Sarachan said. "I’m disappointed we gave up the goal in the first half, but I think our guys had a good positive attitude in the second half, and it was a little back and forth in the second half for sure. Clearly we dodged a couple of bullets. At the same time, I thought we had some chances. A fair result in my mind, and a good result for us."
For United midfielder Ben Olsen, he and the rest of the team know they’re not playing up to their potential.
"We need to bury teams," he said, "and we haven’t done that so far."
Notes: Guppy, who said he’s growing more comfortable with the players around him, explained how his crosses here with DC United have to be different than those he served up in his years in England.
"I’m still trying to adjust," Guppy said. "Most times in England there’s always been a big lumber of a center forward and I’ve been hanging ’em up at the far post for years. Now, the crosses need to be a lot lower with more whip on it. I’m feeling more capable of it; it’s just a matter of adjusting. I managed to get a couple of chances for the boys, and on another night they’d put them away, but … it wasn’t to be." …
United unveiled their 2004 MLS Cup championship banner prior to the start of the match, the team’s league home opener. DC mayor Anthony Williams spoke, and the MLS Cup was showcased. …
United’s developmental squad will start their 12-match season today against the Chicago Fire Reserves. The following players will be on the roster for the match: Troy Perkins, Andrew Terris, Brandon Prideaux, Nick Van Sicklen, Freddy Adu, Tim Merritt, Kenny Arena, Clyde Simms, Eliseo Quintanilla, Jason Thompson, Jamil Walker, Nana Kuffour, Santino Quaranta, Shawn Kuykendall. Mid-Atlantic Soccer Report will have coverage of the action from the RFK Auxiliary Field. Match time is 10 a.m. and admission is free.
Prideaux said he will take a pre-match jog to see if he can play. Arena will also see his first action for United with the reserves. Due to rules in place stating players cannot play more than 90 minutes (first team/reserve combined) in a 36-hour period, Adu is eligible to play just 62 minutes in the reserve match, Quaranta 69 minutes and Walker 87 minutes. …
United will practice Monday and Tuesday in Washington, DC before flying that afternoon to Mexico for their second-leg match against UNAM Pumas. …
Thiago saw his first action for Chicago, going 76 minutes before coming out for Chad Barrett.
DC United (1-0-1) 1–0–1
Chicago (0-1-1) 0–1–1
DCU — Mike Petke 1 (Christian Gomez 1) 40
CHI — Chris Rolfe 1 (Ivan Guerrero 1) 50
Chicago Fire — Zach Thornton (Matt Pickens 46), C.J. Brown, Jim Curtin, Ivan Guerrero, Kelly Gray, Chris Armas, Thiago (Chad Barrett 76), Jesse Marsch, Justin Mapp, Andy Herron (Nate Jaqua 55), Chris Rolfe. Substitutes Not Used: Samuel Caballero, Logan Pause.
TOTAL SHOTS: 10 (Chris Rolfe 4); SHOTS ON GOAL: 3 (Chris Rolfe 2); FOULS: 15 (Jesse Marsch 5); OFFSIDES: 5 (Chris Rolfe 2); CORNERS: 11 (Justin Mapp 8); SAVES: 4 (Zach Thornton 3)
DC United — Nick Rimando, David Stokes, Bobby Boswell, Mike Petke, Joshua Gros, Brian Carroll, Christian Gomez (Freddy Adu 62), Ben Olsen, Steve Guppy (Jamil Walker 87), Alecko Eskandarian (Santino Quaranta 69), Jaime Moreno. Substitutes Not Used: Kenny Arena, Shawn Kuykendall, Troy Perkins, Eliseo Quintanilla, Clyde Simms, Nick Van Sicklen.
TOTAL SHOTS: 10 (Jaime Moreno 2); SHOTS ON GOAL: 5 (5 tied with 1); FOULS: 15 (Mike Petke 4); OFFSIDES: 4 (4 tied with 1); CORNERS: 11 (Steve Guppy 6); SAVES: 2 (Nick Rimando 2)
Misconduct Summary :
DCU — Brian Carroll (caution; Reckless Foul) 80
CHI — Nate Jaqua (caution; Reckless Foul) 85
CHI — Chris Rolfe (caution; Delaying a Restart) 92+
Referee: Abiodun Okulaja
Referee’s Assistants: George Vergara; Jorge De la Bandera
4th Official: Andrew Chapin
Time of Game : 1:50
Weather : Clear-and-61-degrees