Hamid early, Silva late in United’s stoppage-time 1-0 win over Orlando City SC

Luis Silva’s 92nd minute free kick was the difference maker in D.C. United’s smash-and-grab 1-0 victory over Orlando City SC this evening at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando, Florida.

Six days after Chris Pontius’ 93rd minute game-winner over the Galaxy, Silva stepped up and curled a clinical shot over the wall and off the mitts of Orlando City goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts to give United (3-1-0  9 points) their first road win of the season and back-to-back stoppage-time wins, a first in team history. Conversely, the expansion Florida side (1-2-2,  5 points) dropped their second match at home in a row via a stoppage time free kick. The win for United vaults them to the top of the Eastern Conference for at least a week until their rematch with Red Bull next weekend.

While the headlines deservedly go to Silva, it must be noted that goalkeeper Bill Hamid kept United in this game with a number of spectacular saves to frustrate the Lions. Hamid made a pair of point-blank stops inside the six yard box in the first half, first on defender Rafael Ramos’ bid and then thwarting midfielder Kevin Molino’s one-v-one effort off of a nice pass from Brazilian Designated Player and resident superstar Kaka.

United were on the back foot for most of the first half and finally settled into the game after the second of Hamid’s stunning saves. The Black-and-Red nearly grabbed the lead against the run of play when Chris Rolfe’s volley went inches wide of the far post, a shot that Ricketts would have had no chance to save.

After the break United started to gain more control of the match and severely limited the Lion’s chances to take the lead. In fact, it was United who should have taken the lead in the 68th minute  when a trio of shots somehow managed not to go into the goal. The play started with a beautiful diagonal ball over the top of Orlando City’s defense from defender Taylor Kemp. The ball met Sean Franklin in stride and his cut back on Aurelien Collin opened up a pass to the onrushing Conor Doyle. The substitute striker’s shot was well saved by Ricketts but right into the path of Chris Pontius who’s goal-bound bid was miraculously stabbed out of the way by retreating defender Brek Shea. The ensuing pop-up of Shea’s play was headed by Doyle but his bid was frustratingly palmed away by Ricketts for a corner kick.

United must have thought that was their golden opportunity to snatch all three points given that the team has been sporadic offensively through their first four league matches, undoubtedly due to the numerous injuries of key players and the suspension of leading scorer from last season Fabian Espindola. Fortunately for United a slight remedy was at hand as Silva was making his season debut with United when he came on for Rolfe in the 76th minute.

Silva managed to draw a foul at the edge of the area offset to the left when he was bowled over by Collin in the 91st minute. There was no question who was going to take the ensuing free kick and Silva made Orlando City pay dearly for their missed opportunities and silenced the crowd of 32, 822 with a curling effort just over the wall and out of the reach of the rangy Jamaican goalkeeper.

While United has been far from aesthetically pleasing through the first month of the season, the fact that they have banked 9 out of 12 possible points is encouraging as their injured players (and suspended ones) slowly start to make it back to the playing field. Things hopefully will get better from a soccer standpoint, but I really don’t think Ben Olsen cares at this point about the lack of flow offensively.

With that in mind, United has an opportunity to exact revenge on their bitter rivals New York Red Bull when they welcome them to RFK Stadium next Saturday night at 7pm. Red Bull easily defeated United 2-0 two weeks ago at Red Bull Arena.  This match will be televised live on CSNWashington.

 

United Notes

  • Eddie Johnson, out all season with an illness not yet officially disclosed by the team, was in attendance tonight and in the locker room after the match. According to eye witnesses, Johnson proclaimed, “I’ll be back soon”.. More good news perhaps???
DC United's Chris Pontius battles for possession with LA's Omar Gonzales during their team's match at RFK Stadium in Washington DC on March 28, 2015. United would go on to defeat the Galaxy 1-0 with a stoppage time from Chris Pontius. Photo: Martin Fernandez.

Pontius nets dramatic late game-winner in 1-0 victory over the Galaxy

Chris Pontius’ 93rd-minute header was the difference in D.C. United’s dramatic 1-0 win over the Los Angeles Galaxy tonight at frigid RFK Stadium. The win over the Galaxy was United’s first in ten league matches against their West coast rivals and first since a 4-1 win at RFK in June of 2008.

Both teams were playing shorthanded but for very different reasons. United (2-1-0, 6 points) was once again without their top player Fabian Espindola who is in the midst of his six-game suspension to start the season as well as Eddie Johnson, Luis Silva and Markus Halsti. Silva was deemed fit enough to play by head coach Ben Olsen after the match but felt holding him back in the brutally cold conditions was more sensible. To make matters worse for United, defender Steve Birnbaum injured his ankle just 90 seconds into the match and was forced off. Former Galaxy defender Kofi Opare replaced Birnbaum.

The Galaxy (1-1-2, 5 points) were without three of their top players in Robbie Keane, Gyasi Zardes and Jaime Penedo, all of whom were missing for international duty.

None the less a very scrappy match unfolded between the two most successful teams in MLS history as they share 9 of the 19 MLS Cup titles between them. United were closest to drawing first blood midway through the first half when Davy Arnaud’s diagonal ball over the weak side of the Galaxy defense hit Nick DeLeon in stride. DeLeon beat onrushing Galaxy goalkeeper Brian Perk to the ball but his first touch took him too far away from the open net and and the ensuing cross from DeLeon found teamate Jairo Arrieta but the Galaxy did well to scramble back into position to deny United a solid chance on goal.

As the first half wound down, the visitors started carving out some chances. The best of which was an Alan Gordon header from about eight yards out that would have beaten United goalkeeper Bill Hamid had it been either side of him. A few other half chances were easily dealt with by Hamid but it was the Galaxy who had the momentum heading into halftime.

After the break it was essentially more of what was on display in the first forty-five minutes with both sides taking turns attempting to wrestle the flow of the game from each other. United’s best chance up to this point in the match came off the head of Chris Pontius midway through the stanza as his point-blank chance was well saved by Perk to keep the game at 0-0.

As the match seemed destined for a final score of 0-0, a bit of magic happened late in stoppage time. In the last minute of stoppage time, Davy Arnaud chipped a ball deep into the Galaxy’s defensive half and DeLeon did well to out-hustle Galaxy defender Robbie Rogers and beat him to the ball. Once he got there DeLeon used a deft touch to elude Rogers and turned towards goal. DeLeon then lofted a ball to the far post where Pontius met the pass with a diving header with Galaxy defender Dan Gargan draped all over him. The ball settled into the near post and sent RFK Stadium into delirium as teammates mobbed DeLeon and Pontius and turned a draw into a win.

With the win United vaulted from 7th place into the top spot in the East (at least temporarily until all games are completed tonight) and now have six points from three matches. With the win, United now will turn their attention to the expansion Orlando City SC this Friday night in Orlando, Florida. Orlando City SC (1-1-2, 5 points) are coming off a 2-2 draw in Montreal earlier in the day.

 

United Notes

  • Midfielder Miguel Aguilar was cleared by the U.S. Government this week and received a renewal of his work permit and was available to play but did not make it off the bench
  • Steve Birnbaum suffered a left-ankle sprain in the 2nd minute and was carted off the field. The severity of the injury is unknown at the moment. Don’t expect him back in the lineup anytime soon
  • Silva is expected to be in the 18-man squad for the trip to Florida later this week
  • No timetable has been given for the extended injuries to Eddie Johnson (heart ailment) and Markus Halsti (knee). Halsti was interviewed before the match on CSN Washington’s D.C. United pregame show and said his knee was getting better and hopes to be available soon

Defensive miscues fuels Red Bull 2-0 win at home over United

The narrative going through the first month or so of D.C. United’s 2015 MLS campaign was who was going to score goals with the extended absences of Fabian Espindola (11 goals in 2014), Luis Silva (11 goals) and Eddie Johnson (7 goals).

This afternoon in their road opener at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey, goals certainly were absent in their 2-0 loss to New York Red Bulls but it was the defensive mistakes that brought about both goals as well as being second-best all afternoon to their bitter rivals. Red Bull were sporting a team minus iconic players Thierry Henry and Tim Cahill but that seemed to matter very little as the rebuilt side took it to DC from the opening kickoff.

Red Bulls constant pressure paid off in the 25th minute when a seemingly harmless long ball from Dax McCarty was horribly misplayed by United’s central defensive tandem of Steve Birnbaum and Bobby Boswell. Too much space was allowed between United’s defensive pillars and Bradley Wright-Phillips exploited Birnbaum and Boswell. Wright-Phillips first touch allowed both United defenders to recover in time but both were unable to prevent MLS’ reigning goal scoring King to fire the ball low past Bill Hamid for the 1-0 lead.

United, snapped to attention by the goal, finally started to play more effectively and nearly tied the match just a few minutes later. Chris Rolfe’s angled shot was well saved by Red Bull goalkeeper Luis Robles and was United’s best opportunity at the time. Red Bull stayed solid in defense limiting United to very few chances offensively as Ben Olsen’s squad seemed slow to react and were second-best to every loose ball. Throw in the fact that United simply couldn’t hold extended possession under Red Bulls pressure and it wasn’t exactly what Olsen had in mind going into the match.

After the break, United started to compose themselves much better and had the run of play. However, against the run of play Red Bull doubled their lead in the 71st minute through another inattentive defensive mistake. Davy Arnaud got caught in possession and was stripped of the ball that set off a Red Bull 4v2 advantage towards United’s goal. Wright-Phillips slotted the ball to his right where Lloyd Sam took an angled run at Hamid. The Englishman blasted a shot that beat Hamid at the near post and for all intents and purposes put the match out of reach as poorly as United were playing.

To United’s credit they did not pack up and with better finishing could have made a match of it. Chris Rolfe was once again denied by Robles, this time in the 77th minute with a quick point-blank reaction save from a well-placed Taylor Kemp cross. United’s best chance to score on the night came in stoppage time when Davy Arnaud was taken down in the area and Chris Pontius managed to balloon his shot well over the crossbar, summing the team performance and lack of confidence with Pontius at the moment.

Things don’t get any easier folks as the Los Angeles Galaxy come to town next weekend. Espindola and Silva can’t come back quick enough..

Arrieta Celebrates

United takes opener with 1-0 win over Montreal

Jairo Arrieta’s lone goal helped to propel D.C. United to a season-opening 1-0 win over the Montreal Impact this afternoon at snowy and cold RFK Stadium. Just two days removed from a storm that dumped eight inches of snow on the Nation’s Capital, United and the Impact met on a field strewn with pock marks and soggy patches of grass. The elements not withstanding, both teams were coming off of their respective CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal matches with the visitors in the better mood via their advancement over Mexican giants Pachuca while United were left licking their wounds after their dismissal at the hands of Alajuelense of Costa Rica.

Undeterred, the Black-and-Red took it to their Canadian counterparts and controlled large portions of the run of play. United had the first opportunity of the match 19 minutes in thanks in part to the determination of Arrieta. A poor first touch from Belgian defender Laurent Ciman allowed the speedy Costa Rican to steal the ball away 30 yards from goal. While being tackled Arrieta managed to nudge the ball to fellow striker Chris Pontius and his angled left-footed bid rolled agonizingly past the far post.

DSC_0172United continued to boss the play but it was Montreal that would strike at the next golden opportunity in the 35th minute and to no one’s surprise United goalkeeper Bill Hamid easily parried away Montreal left back Donny Toia’s rasping 25-yard drive. After the break both teams took turns wrestling the tempo away from each other but it was United who would finally break through in the 58th minute. After a routine save by Hamid, Nick DeLeon played a ball to Davy Arnaud who immediately one-timed it upfield to Chris Rolfe, Rolfe, easily the best player on the day, sent a ball over the defense to a streaking Arrieta. Arrieta, playing in place of suspended striker Fabian Espindola, easily outpaced the Impact defense and beat goalkeeper Evan Bush to the ball just inside the top right corner of the penalty area. The slippery Arrieta then pushed the ball with the outside of his right foot (left) just beneath Bush and it rolled easily into the vacated net to give United the 1-0 lead.

United should have doubled the score just two minutes later when Pontius and Arrieta combined for a beautiful chance at goal. Pontius was a bit quicker to a bouncing ball and beat Ciman and headed the ball over the Belgian to Arrieta. Arrieta, sensing the run to goal from Pontius, put the ball over his head and into Pontius’ stride where he chested the ball down and toe-poked a shot past Bush but off the crossbar and down just a few inches from going over the goal line.

After that point it was all Montreal as the visitors pushed numbers into the attack. Montreal felt hard done by when in the 76th minute Hassoun Camara’s shot from five yards out was goal bound only to see it hit off the upper arm of Conor Doyle who was positioned on the goal line. The Impact were screaming for a penalty as the ball was finally cleared out of danger. Minutes later the game would take a sullen turn as Impact midfielder Justin Mapp suffered what seemed to be a serious injury. The speedy winger had gotten in behind the United defense and was just about to pull the trigger on a shot when defender Chris Korb managed to poke the ball away. At the same time Hamid had come out to narrow the angle and as all three players converged (below), it was Mapp who came out injured when he apparently dislocated an appendage when cushioning his blow to the ground. Hamid and Korb both called immediately to the training staff as they both realized the severity of the collision.

DSC_0273

After Mapp was carted off United continued to defend in numbers and held the Impact without any real game-tying chances. In addition to their defensive effort, substitute Miguel Aguilar did a fantastic job of killing of time with a number of great challenges to win balls including one 30-second sequence in which he skinned every Impact defender in sight as they struggled to take the ball off the precocious rookie who was making his MLS debut.

United easily saw out the extended injury time, due to Mapp’s gruesome injury, and got themselves their first opening day win since beating Columbus in 2011.

1st Leg deficit too much to overcome as United are bounced from Champions League despite 2-1 win over Alajuelense

Hoping to overturn a 5-2 deficit from the first leg of D.C. United’s quarterfinal matchup with Alajuelense proved too difficult as United dropped the aggregate score series 6-4, despite United’s 2-1 victory at soggy RFK Stadium.

Eerily similar to the situation that saw United eliminated from the MLS Cup playoffs last November (United trailed New York Red Bull by 2-0 heading into the second leg at RFK), United did have an outside chance of pulling off a miracle by virtue of picking up two goals in last weeks defeat in Alajula, Costa Rica. United would have needed a 3-0 or 4-1 victory to win the series outright by the away goals rule.

However that hopeful scenario never materialized for the Black-and-Red. United did take the lead when Jairo Arrieta tallied his first goal for United in the 36th minute when he picked up a botched clearance and slotted his shot home past Alajuelense goalkeeper Dexter Lewis. Buoyed by the goal, United pushed forward in the physical affair which saw multiple yellow cards handed out just in the first half alone.

After the break United’s hopes for advancement were effectively dashed when the visitors leveled the match in the 71st minute. A poor clearance from defender Chris Korb, a last-minute substitution for Taylor Kemp who picked up a slight groin strain in warm-ups, allowed a sliver of a chance and midfielder Johan Veneges took advantage and ricochet his shot off of Korb and past a helpless Bill Hamid in goal.

With the life of the series drained out of United they did press on and if not for some rather pedestrian refereeing from Guatemalan head man Walter Lopez, United could have made a real go at pulling off the upset. There were at least three to four good penalty claims for United inside the last 20 minutes of the match with only the last claim being called by Lopez as Chris Rolfe was dragged down right in front of goal when he was in prime position to finish a Conor Doyle cross.

Fabian Espindola stepped up and easily scored the penalty to give United the final margin of victory. United won the battle on the day but lost the War to their Costa Rican opponents.

United now will turn their attention towards their MLS season-opening match just three days away when they host the Montreal Impact on Saturday afternoon at 3pm. Ironically, had United pulled off this miracle comeback, they would be facing the very same Impact in the semi-final round. The Impact produced their own miracle with a 94th minute goal in their 1-1 draw with Pachuca last night to eliminate the Mexican side.

The match on Saturday was in serious jeopardy of not being played at all as the Collective Bargaining Agreement talks between the Owners and the MLS Players Union were in overtime in Washington, D.C. However, a deal in prinicipal was struck just minutes before tonight’s match kicked off and the 2015 MLS season will begin as scheduled on Friday night when the Chicago Fire take on the Los Angeles Galaxy in Carson, California.

United will have to now make do without their talisman leader Espindola as he begins a six-game suspension for his shoving incident of an assistant referee when United were eliminated by Red Bull at RFK last November.

United completely outclassed in Costa Rica; Advancement in dire straits

While the list of advantages not in D.C. United’s favor were many heading into the first leg of their CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal knockout round against LD Alajuelense, the bottom line is that they were completely outclassed in all facets of the game in their 5-2 loss tonight in Alajuela, Costa Rica.

Alajuelense put United under siege inside the first twenty minutes and were 2-0 up before Fabian Espindola gave the Black-and-Red brief hope with a 27th minute goal. Just two minutes later though, an Andrew Dykstra mistake, one of many in his start in place of the injured Bill Hamid, pushed the lead back to two goals and the home side never looked back.

Alajeulense extended the lead to 4-1 early in the second half to nearly put the tie out of reach, but Steve Birnbaum’s first goal for United in the 88th minute gave United a real lifeline heading into next Wednesday’s return leg at RFK Stadium as United had scored an all-important second road goal. However that feeling lasted for about 30 seconds, just long enough for Alajuelense to come right back down the field and capitalize on a poor Birnbaum clearance to extent the lead to the final scoreline of 5-2.

Now United’s prospects of moving on into the semi-final round of the CCL have taken a serious blow. United will now have to win by a 3-0 scoreline to advance past Alajuelense. Given that United looked so porous defensively this evening, one can’t really expect that result to come to fruition.

Going into the match United has a litany of factors working against them. United was playing their first competitive match since losing in the MLS Playoffs last November while Alajuelense was 10 games deep into their season. United were playing on the road in Costa Rica against one of the stingiest defensive teams in recent years in this competition (kudos to them for actually scoring twice, a feat not pulled off by any opponent in a long time in the CCL in Alajuela) and United were missing at least four starters including late scratches Bill Hamid and Markus Halsti.

The absence of Hamid loomed largest as Dykstra folded under the pressure in spite of a strong opening 14 minutes. Within the next 14 minutes Dykstra had committed an unnecessary penalty and subsequent PK goal and spilled a harmless cross right into the path of an Alajuelense player to easily poke into the empty net and essentially kill off the match and most likely the two-legged series.

Would Hamid have made a difference? Most likely yes but we’ll never know now if sitting Hamid out in this first leg cost United the chance to advance to the semi-finals. While that particular point can be argued ad nauseam on various message boards or on podcasts, the cold hard truth tonight was that D.C. United was completely and embarrassingly outclassed on every level.

United will get their opportunity to push their own home-field advantage next Wednesday in the cold March temperatures in D.C. Will that be enough to turn it around? Not likely unfortunately.

Stranger things have happened however….

Mistakes, missed opportunities abound as United drop final preseason match in Dallas by 3-1 score

Not exactly the way Ben Olsen wanted this one to go.

With the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League beckoning just a week away, Olsen was looking for a solid effort to take down to Costa Rica. Well, that didn’t exactly pan out as D.C. United dropped a 3-1 decision to FC Dallas at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas tonight. United made numerous defensive blunders to help the home side to the rather flattering lopsided scoreline. United actually played up a man for 65 minutes after FC Dallas midfielder Michel was sent off for a two-footed challenge on Sean Franklin in the 24th minute. Franklin would be subbed out at halftime of the match, no doubt for precautionary reasons. Olsen begged the referee and the FC Dallas staff to allow another player onto the field so it wouldn’t be 11-v-10. It hardly mattered at the end of the day.

Even so, with the man advantage it was FC Dallas that took the lead in the 27th minute thanks to some slack marking from United. Franklin applied very little pressure to left-back Moses Hernandez who was allowed to float a ball to the far post inside the area. Taylor Kemp was equally lax in the marking of Blas Perez who easily leaped to meet the cross and send it back towards the goal where Ryan Hollingshead tapped in his 3rd goal of the preseason.

United continued to seem flustered by the man-up situation but settled in towards the end of the half but did not generate any meaningful chances to close out the first stanza. After the break United continued their pressure and finally broke through in the 62nd minute. Jairo Arrieta, subbing in for the ineffective Chris Pontius just before the hour mark, hit the far post with a header just seconds into his appearance but would find the net just a few minutes later when he volleyed in a cross from Fabian Espindola from the right flank.

United seemed poised to take control of the match and should have doubled or even tripled their lead but not for two missed chances by Nick DeLeon and Perry Kitchen. DeLeon stumbled as he came into the area in the 70th minute allowing the defense and goalkeeper Dan Kennedy to snuff out his chance. Perhaps an even more glaring miss was Kitchen’s attempt in the 75th minute. After United’s most attractive buildup of one-touch passes and clever movement of the preseason, Taylor Kemp found himself alone deep in the penalty area. His cross to the far post was headed back across the face of goal, not unlike the sequence that led to FC Dallas’ first goal of the game, where Kitchen simply whiffed on an easy tap-in.

United would rue that missed opportunity as FC Dallas caught United pushing players too far upfield in the 79th minute. A seemingly harmless through ball was shielded by defender Bobby Boswell who seemed to expect goalkeeper Andrew Dykstra to clear out of danger. Dykstra hesitated and that was all it took for the league’s quickest player in Fabian Castillo to ghost in and easily round the goalkeeper for the game-winning tally.

United’s misery was compounded further when FC Dallas substitute Tesho Akindele was brought down in the area by Steve Birnbaum in the 88th minute. United again were caught with too many people moving forward and the quick FC Dallas counter caught them out of position. Akindele, last season’s Rookie of the Year winner over Birnbaum ironically, easily beat Dykstra to his right for the final goal of the game.

Olsen can not be happy with the number of critical mistakes and more so the lengthy man-advantage they had for the majority of the game. For a team that prides itself on their defending, to give up three goals with a man advantage can not bode well heading into their match on Thursday night against Alajuelense in Costa Rica.

Let’s hope this performance was just a mirage and United can learn from this harsh lesson.

United captures The Dillo with 1-0 win over FC Dallas

D.C. United captured the vaunted Dillo trophy with their 1-0 win this afternoon over FC Dallas in the final of the ATX Pro Challenge in Austin, Texas.

Chris Rolfe’s sensational goal in the 54th minute was the game-winner for the Black-and-Red as they have taken back-to-back preseason tournaments coupled with last years Charleston Challenge Cup in Charleston, South Carolina.

Ben Olsen put out a lineup that most likely will take the field in their first-leg match against Alejuelense in 11 days time in Costa Rica. Bill Hamid enjoyed another fine match with making a pair of nice saves on either side of halftime to help United’s cause. With Steve Birnbaum most likely not available to start in Costa Rica, Olsen pulled Markus Halsti into central defense with Bobby Boswell and the Finnish star played flawlessly against FC Dallas’ brutal combination of physical play and equally devastating team speed. Halsti’s positioning and composure on the ball were second-to-none in the match and so far has been as good as advertised since coming over on his transfer from FC Malmo in Sweden in January.

Coming out of the gate United may have regretted some missed opportunities as Nick DeLeon missed a seemingly easy chip over onrushing FC Dallas goalkeeper Dan Kennedy just two minutes into the match.  A few minutes later DeLeon muscled off a challenge from the FC Dallas defense and appeared to have Chris Pontius alone at the penalty spot but for some reason he hesitated and the move was lost.

Fabian Espindola was next up on the regret list in the 26th minute when he picked up a loose ball just inside FC Dallas’ half of the field. With FC Dallas scrambling to get back defensively due to their error, Espindola took off towards goal with Pontius on his left and DeLeon on his right. Both players were achingly wide open but Espindola unwisely decided to shoot with this off-right foot at the top of the penalty area and the promising move fizzled out.

After the break it was more of United controlling the tempo of the match. FC Dallas’ physical nature caught up to them in the 54th minute when a free kick was awarded to United along the right flank. After an initial soft clearance from FC Dallas, the ball found it’s way to the foot of Rolfe about 30 yards out from goal. Two severe cut back moves later, Rolfe was bending a wicked 23-yard upper 90 shot into the far side netting with Kennedy having no chance to save it.

United then decided to remove their starters, albeit Hamid, from the match around the 70th minute and FC Dallas finally started gaining some traction in the match. However, there were few and far between. Hamid made a sensational save with about six minutes to go in the match to keep United in front and then FC Dallas’ last chance was a questionable free kick given just outside the penalty area in stoppage time. The resulting free kick was blasted straight into the United wall and the match was easily seen out from there.

After the match, United will now fly to Dallas to train through the remainder of next week culminating in an already scheduled rematch with FC Dallas in Frisco, TX on Friday, February 20th. This will be United’s last match of preparation before heading down to Costa Rica to take on Alejuelense on Thursday, February 26th in the first leg of their CONCACAF Champions League Quarterfinal knockout round. The return leg of this match will be back at RFK Stadium on Wednesday, March 4th, just three days ahead of the open of the MLS season on March 7th.

United picks up first win of the preseason

First half goals from 2015 top draft pick Miguel Aguilar and third-year player Conor Doyle were more than enough to help D.C. United gain their first preseason win tonight over the host Austin Aztex 2-0 in the ATX Pro Challenge. After starting the preseason with two draws and a loss in Florida over the past two weeks, it was a team of reserves that ushered the Black-and-Red to the win.

Aguilar, who just officially signed with the team on Friday, scored on a brilliant shot from the top of the penalty area in the 14th minute to stake United to the early lead. United nearly doubled their advantage just a minute later when defender Kofi Opare and trialist, rumored to be Costa Rican defender Alexander Robinson Delgado (why United won’t announce who this player is a baffling mystery but almost par for the course in MLS), both hit shots off the crossbar within seconds of each other.

United did however get their second goal a few minutes later when Jairo Arrieta was the benefactor of a poor giveaway deep in Austin’s territory. The Costa Rican striker quickly slipped a ball between the retreating defenders to Conor Doyle who easily curled his shot around the Aztex goalkeeper for the 2-0 lead.

With this very likely being the last opportunity for any of United’s reserves to see playing time due to United’s first-leg match in the CONCACAF Champions League knockout stage against Alejuelense of Costa Rica just two weeks away, they took advantage of the opportunity to keep United comfortably in front. The only real scoring threat from the home side came inside the first few minutes when they had a free kick from the top of the area only to see Andrew Dykstra palm the shot away for a corner kick.

After the break the reserves stayed on the field with the exception of Bill Hamid who was making his preseason debut with United due to a nagging shoulder injury. Just minutes into the second half, Doyle nearly made it 3-0 after a nice buildup from United which eventually saw a nice ball played by Aguilar to Doyle who’s one-time shot whistled just wide of the near post.

Head coach Ben Olsen then swapped in his presumed starters into the match in the 61st minute with an eye on increasing the lead against the USL third division side. However, it was the plucky lower-leaguers who came closest to scoring. Hamid made a sensational save on a corner kick in the 74th minute to keep the Aztex off the scoreboard. United created numerous chances to increase the lead but failed to do so.

With the win, United will now advance to the final on Sunday afternoon at 2pm EST against FC Dallas. Interestingly enough, this match will serve as a pseudo home-and-home series with FC Dallas as United were already scheduled to play them in Frisco, Texas on February 20th as their send off match before taking on Alejuelense on February 26th in Costa Rica.

 

United Notes

  •  Michael Farfan made his debut with United in central midfield and his service to Opare in the first half set off the double-crossbar sequence that should have resulted in a goal
  •  United released MF Dan Metzger earlier in the day. Metzger was United’s 2nd round pick in this years MLS SuperDraft and seemingly lost out in United’s crowded midfield
  •  United also released MF Andrew Driver on Thursday as well. Driver had yet to sign with the team and was acquired in a trade in December that saw GK Joe Willis and D/MF Samuel        Inkoom go the other direction to Houston

United win game, but lose series to rivals Red Bull

D.C. United may have won the battle today, but they lost the war against their most bitter rivals in New York Red Bull.

D.C.’s 2-1 win this afternoon was not enough to overturn a two-goal deficit from their encounter last weekend at Red Bull Arena and the Red Bulls advance to the Eastern Conference final with their 3-2 aggregate win over United.

It was not without some discomfort however as United took the lead in the 37th minute when Nick DeLeon met Taylor Kemp’s sublime cross from the left flank to give the Black-and-Red the 1-0 lead. The aggregate was now down to 2-1 in favor of the visitors and United were looking to complete the comeback. With a season-high crowd of 20,187 on hand at RFK, United nearly leveled the series in the 53rd minute when Fabian Espindola’s diving header went inches wide of the far post.

The game, and essentially the series was over just a few minutes later when Peguy Luyindula poked home an equally impressive cross from Thierry Henry to level the score at 1-1. With that valuable away goal, it now forced United to score three more times to win the series outright due to the newly-added playoff scenario. With United failing to score a road goal in their 2-0 loss last weekend, any goal from Red Bull would eliminate any extra-time scenarios and would force United to win the aggregate series.

With that knowledge in mind, United threw everything at Red Bull and thought they did get the game-winning goal from Sean Franklin in stoppage time, it was not nearly enough as United’s magical run from worst-to-first came to frustrating end.

The frustration boiled over for United as Espindola was shown a red card after the final whistle for a clear shove of the assistant referee, the same assistant referee who was in the middle of the controversy surrounding Red Bull’s game-tying goal. A ball along the sideline right in front of the Red Bull bench appeared to have crossed the line but the assistant waved play on. Just a few seconds later United were pulling the ball out of their own net and were staring at the end of their season. Espindola, about as emotional a player can be in this league, lashed out at the assistant referee and was shown a yellow card by the matches referee Ismail Elfath for his badgering of the linesmen.

Espindola made a beeline towards the same referee as the final whistle blew and he lost his composure and shoved the linesmen before team officials could pull him away. Not only will Espindola be suspended for United’s season opener in 2015, one can expect a multiple game suspension for his actions as well.

That incident alone however can not tarnish the job Ben Olsen and his staff did in helping turnaround the single-worst season by an MLS club in league history in 2013. United defied the odds and finished at the top of the Eastern Conference as well as advance to the knockout stages of the CONCACAF Champions League next February as well as gain entry into the 2015-2016 version of that same tournament which will begin in July of 2015.

The question now is what will this team look like in 2015? No doubt United will lose a player or two in the upcoming Expansion Draft, but they will also need to fill some holes in and around the squad and will need to look at reopening the pocketbook to bring in more expensive and effective players that can get this squad to the next level.

Kudos to D.C. United for an unexpected and exhilarating 2014 season. We are all looking forward to 2015.