Chris Pontius

United rout Fire and jump back into 2nd place in the Eastern Conference

Washington, D.C., October 18, 2015 – Just in the nick of time. Better now than never. Saving the best for last. D.C. United have regained their form and any of the aforementioned cliches would be more than appropriate.

Chris Pontius’s goal late in the first half got United on their way to an eventual 4-0 win over the hapless Chicago Fire and the result pushed United from fifth place to second place in the East with only next weeks game at Columbus left in the regular season. A win in Columbus locks up the 2nd seed (New York Red Bull clinched the top spot by virtue of their 4-1 win over Philadelphia this afternoon) for the Black-and Red. A draw would also work but it also would allow Toronto FC an opportunity to squeak into the second spot if they were to win their matchup against their Eastern Canadian rivals in Montreal next weekend.

All Eastern Conference games will start at 5pm next weekend so no team will know their destiny until their matches are played to the full 90 minutes.

As for today’s critical game, it was the first time this season that United had put forth a full 90-minute performance. Part of that had to do with the apathy on display from the visiting Fire who became the sixth team in MLS history to go an entire season without a win on the road (0-12-5). Most of it however had to do with the improved confidence of United as they were coming off their stoppage-time win over NYCFC over two weeks ago.

United pushed the pace from the opening whistle and for the first time in over three months United did not concede a first half goal, a certain bugaboo that has plagued the team seemingly all season long, particularly at RFK Stadium. After an enterprising but fruitless first 20 minutes for United, the visitors started to get into the match. However it was United that got on the board first thanks in part to great hustle from Chris Rolfe and eventually Chris Pontius.

Rolfe wiggled his way through a trio of Fire defenders about 40 yards from goal and was set to unleash Pontius on goal. Fire midfielder Razvan Cocis intervened and actually pushed the ball into the path of Pontius. Pontius, who has struggle all year to get back to full fitness from nagging injuries, burst through and rounded startled Fire goalkeeper Jon Busch and finished very well from an acute angle for his third goal of the season.

United were not off the hook just yet as Bill Hamid made a save in stoppage time to keep the game at 1-0. Hamid saved brilliantly from a Jeff Larentowicz free kick and then held his breath as the ensuing corner kick was volleyed inches wide by Cocis.

After the break it was only one team on the field United finally rewarded themselves after a season of one-goal wins and matches that seemed to drag on for eternity. Rolfe nearly doubled the advantage just minutes after the restart when Busch did well to parry his free kick away. The ensuing rebound eventually found its way to Markus Halsti but his goal bound shot was blocked by teammate Kofi Opare.

United finally did get the breathing room they desired in the 67 minute. After having success early in the season on corner kicks, it had been quite a while since United had scored from one and Bobby Boswell was the beneficiary of great service from Fabian Espindola as he flicked his corner to the far post where it easily nestled into the goal for his second goal of the season.

Espindola got on the scoreboard just four minutes later when his mostly intended cross redirected off of Fire defender Lovel Palmer and caught Busch out of position at the far post to make it 3-0 to United. The goal was Fabian’s fifth of the season.

United wrapped up their scoring in the 80th minute when substitute Alvaro Saborio redirected a deflected Sean Franklin shot into the goal for his seventh goal of the season and fourth with United. Saborio has scored in back-to-back games as a substitute and may have carved out an important role for United moving forward as a late-game difference maker.

Next up for United is the season-ending match in Columbus next Sunday at 5pm. Columbus will be without their top two star players as both Kei Kamara and Federico Higuan are both yellow card suspended for the match as they both picked up senseless yellows in their surprising 2-0 win in Toronto on Saturday afternoon.



Alvaro Saborio

Stoppage-time winner ends losing streak and sends D.C. United back to the playoffs

Washington, D.C., October 2, 2015 – Alvaro Saborio scored a 92nd minute game-winner to push D.C. United past visiting NYCFC 2-1 and into the playoffs for the second consecutive season in front of a gobsmacked season-high of over 21,ooo drenched fans at RFK Stadium.

Saborio had just missed an opportunity to put United ahead a few minutes earlier but more than made up for it with the game-winner, his third goal for the Black-and-Red since being acquired in July at the trade deadline. The win for United (14-12-6, 48 points) clinched their playoff spot and pushed the squad back into a tie with New York Red Bulls at the top of the Eastern Conference.  The much needed win also stopped a horrid six-game unbeaten run which saw United plummet down the Eastern Conference standings. Incredibly, it was the 8th win this season for United after giving up the opening goal.

As this was the first game of the weekend, United could fall back to fourth place if both New England (at Chicago) and Columbus (at Red Bull) manage to win their games. A tie or a loss from either side will see them stay below United with only two league games to play.

As has been the case over the past two months at RFK, things once again got off to a horrible start. Frank Lampard slotted home a rebound from a Bill Hamid save just 48 seconds into the game to stun the soaked crowd at RFK. In United’s last five league home matches, they have given up goals in the 1st, 2nd, 4th, 27th and 1st minute in each of those games. Even more amazing is that United has come back to win three of those games, including tonight’s match.

With the conditions getting steadily worse through the match, both teams managed to slog through the impediments of Mother Nature and it remained 1-0 heading into the break with neither team really taking the upper hand.

After the break however it was a different story and a different D.C. United. The Black-and-Red pushed the tempo from the jump and pushed NYCFC back into their own half for most of the second stanza. United thought it had scored the game-tying goal midway through the half when Fabian Espindola’s looping header met Chris Pontius at the back post. The UCSB product finished beautifully only to see the offside flag rule the goal out.

A few minutes later that same combination worked its magic again and this time the equalizer stood. Chris Pontius received a ball among a throng of NYCFC players but managed to weave his way around them for a blistering left-footed shot from 23 yards away. NYCFC goalkeeper Josh Saunders dove to his left and could only parry the ball right in front of goal. Espindola was quicker than the NYCFC defense and pushed the rebound into the goal for his fourth goal of the year.

Pontius very nearly gave United the lead just a few minutes later when his right-footed blast from 40 yards was well saved by Saunders and cleared out of danger before Saborio could pounce on the rebound.

Saborio should have given United the lead in the 90th minute when he was beautifully led to the penalty spot by Espindola only to see his weak left-footed shot saved by Saunders. However, just over a minute later Saborio would not miss his second opportunity. After a dazzling run through the rain-soaked pitch and most of NYCFC’s defense by Pontius, he was hauled down by defender Chris Wingert forty yards from goal. Wingert received a yellow card for his efforts and then up stepped Espindola to deliver the dagger blow.

The Argentine’s free kick floated over the wall and was miscleared by former United midfielder Andrew Jacobsen at the back post and fell gratefully to the foot of Saborio who poked the ball underneath Saunders for yet another come-from-behind win for United.

Up next for United is their last home match of the season against the Chicago Fire on Sunday October 18th at 2pm.

Ben Olsen. Photo: Martin Fernandez.

Poor second half dooms United in 3-1 loss to NYCFC

Bronx, New York, August 13, 2015 – This type of loss has been coming for D.C. United. They’ve just been too stubborn to let it happen over the past three weeks but tonight it finally caved in as they allowed three second-half goals in a 3-1 loss to expansion side NYCFC tonight at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx.

Thomas McNamara, David Villa and Kwadwo Poku all scored in the second stanza after United took a 1-0 lead in the 36th minuted through Alvaro Saborio.

Both teams came out relatively conservative though United had a golden opportunity in the third minute to take an early lead. Conor Doyle got loose behind NYCFC’s defense but a poor final touch prevented his one-v-one opportunity with Josh Saunders in goal. NYCFC had the next chance at grabbing the lead in the 21st minute when Villa’s hard angled shot was well saved by Bill Hamid.

United took the lead through some good fortune as NYCFC star Andres Pirlo put a back pass right into the path of a streaking Chris Rolfe. United’s leading scorer sprinted towards goal before squaring the ball to Saborio who’s shot kissed the inside of the far post before settling into the goal for his second goal with the Black-and-Red. United very nearly gave the lead up just sixty seconds later when the back line got caught out defensively only for Bobby Boswell’s lunging goal-line clearance of a Villa effort keeping United in the lead.

After that however it was all NYCFC as they put their foot on the accelerator right from the jump of the second half. Hamid came up huge in the 50th minute in what ended up being a bad sign of things to come. Just a minute later the home side was level as United fell asleep defensively, not for the first time. As the game was beginning to open up, Kwadwo Poku easily got behind Taylor Kemp and rounded Hamid and then slotted the ball to McNamara for an easy tap-in and his fifth goal of the season.

At this point United were simply trying to hang on to their 1-1 scoreline but the skill and class of Poku and Villa were too much for United to overcome. With United in a defensive shell and showing precious little in the way of possession or even passes strung together in the second half, it was Andres Pirlo who ultimately made the difference. In the 80th minute, Alvaro Saborio gave away a bad pass at midfield and then the Italian General simply picked apart United’s defense with an inch-perfect pass that had both Boswell and Sean Franklin playing the “you take it-I got it” game. As that indecision was happening, Villa forced his way between the two defenders and slotted a left-footed shot past a clearly exasperated Hamid for the 2-1 lead.

With United in free fall, Poku wrapped up his Man-of-the-Match performance as his physical speed and skill were no match for a back tracking Boswell. Poku simply overpowered United’s best defender and hammered a shot almost through Hamid for the final goal in a disappointing 3-1 loss.

Even with the loss United still maintain their 8-point lead in the Eastern Conference but now second place New York Red Bull have an eye towards the top of the conference as they have a healthy four games in hand on United.

Up next for United is a trip to Panama for their opening game in the Concacaf Champions League against Arabe Unido on Wednesday, August 19th. United is off this weekend from MLS action and will return to league play when they host the San Jose Earthquakes on Saturday, August 22nd at 7pm. The CCL match will be televised on Fox Soccer Plus at 8pm EST while their league tilt with the Quakes will be televised locally on Comcast SportsNet at 7pm EST

Alvaro Saborio

Terrible start, Fantastic finish as D.C. United top Philadelphia at RFK

Washington, D.C., July 26, 2015 – The bad news – United has waited over a month to play a home game and they fell behind the Philadelphia Union 2-0 inside of four minutes. The good news – there were still eighty-six minutes to go and United used every one of them to their advantage in a stunning 3-2 come-from-behind win at sticky RFK Stadium this afternoon.

Alvaro Saborio, above (Phot0: Martin Fernandez), marked his debut with United with the opening goal of the comeback and Nick DeLeon ended it with his first goal in MLS in over a year as a season-high 19,125 fans were put through the emotional ringer once again. The victory for United (11-7-5, 38 points) pushed their lead in the Eastern Conference to seven points over second place Columbus. It was also the sixth time this season that the Black-and-Red had won after conceding the opening goal of the game. Even more mind blowing than that is that United has only led at halftime of 3 of 22 games this season.

While United will ultimately take a deep breath and enjoy the win, things started out in horrific fashion as defensive lapses led directly to both of the Union’s opening goals. In just the first ten seconds of the match, right back Chris Korb sent a lazy pass that was easily intercepted and eventually channeled to C.J. Sapong just inside the penalty area. Sapong easily brushed off Steve Birnbaum and surprisingly found himself at the penalty spot all alone and beat Andrew Dykstra to his right for a 1-0 lead.

With RFK still reeling from the early deficit, the Union doubled their lead to the disbelief of everyone on and off the field. Chaco Maidana sent a harmless ball to Sebastien Le Toux on United’s right flank. Korb gave the Frenchman a bit too much room as he centered a ball into the heart of the goalmouth. Somehow the ball managed to elude both Sapong and Birnbaum and sleepily tucked into the far post netting for an unthinkable 2-0 lead just four minutes into the game.

Although United were understandably rocked, they soon regained their composure enough to start threatening the Union goal. United got their best opportunity midway through the half when Saborio’s give-and-go with Davy Arnaud ended up with Arnaud being chopped down in the penalty area. Fabian Espindola stepped up to take the PK despite the fact that Chris Rolfe had converted his last two spot kicks. Almost predictably, Espindola sent his shot well over the crossbar to further deflate the crowd.

All was not lost however as Saborio cut the deficit in half in the 37th minute when his volleyed shot from a Korb cross beat Union goalkeeper Brian Slyvestre just inside the near post. Buoyed by that goal United took over the match after the break and it seemed like only a matter of time until they nabbed the equalizer. With the Union pinned down in their own end, United created a number of chances to equalize but were coming just a bit short.

That all changed in the 66th minute when a mountain-sized gorilla was finally lifted off the back of Nick DeLeon. It had been over a year since NDL scored on July 4th of last year and today’s goal couldn’t have come at a better time. Espindola, who had been wreaking havoc on the left flank all half long, made a rare foray into the center of the field and found himself on the ball outside the top of the penalty area. Espindola juked and jived his way into some space to unleash his patented left-footed blast. Slyvestre could only parry the ball away a few feet and that is all DeLeon needed as he slipped the rebound under Sylvestre to level the match at 2-2.

And as has been the case five times at RFK alone this season, United completed the comeback in the 79th minute when Espindola headed down a beautiful cross from Korb for the game-winner. Just seconds earlier, the Union were inches away from taking the lead when Sapong beat Dykstra to a loose ball in the box and his chipped attempt crashed down off the crossbar to set up the sequence that saw United to another head-scratching win.

After that emotional and physical roller coaster ride, United will welcome in Saborio’s old team Real Salt Lake into town next Saturday night at RFK Stadium.


United vs. Real Salt Lake Preview

D.C. United opens up the home portion of their 2013 MLS regular season with a matchup against Real Salt Lake this Saturday night at 7pm at RFK Stadium.

United is coming off of a disappointing but ultimately predictable 2-0 loss in Houston last weekend to open up the 2013 campaign. Two late goals sunk United in a very credible defensive effort against a team that simply has their number in the state of Texas (United is winless in 11 matches across all competitions lifetime against Houston). While defense did it’s part through the first 80 minutes of the match, it fell apart in the final ten minutes. Offensively United could only muster a few solid chances and ultimately never even registered a shot on goal. Obviously things must change this weekend in order to avoid another 0-2 start to the season.

Meanwhile, Real Salt Lake is coming off a surprising 2-0 road win in San Jose last weekend courtesy of two fine finishes from their Costa Rican sniper Alvaro Saborio. The scoreline may have flattered RSL a bit as San Jose was dominant in the match but simply couldn’t close the deal. Reigning Golden Boot winner Chris Wondolowski had seven attempts on goal without scoring, a sure sign that things didn’t go well for the Supporters Shield winners from last season. RSL was patient and clinical in their finishing and were deserved winners at the end of the day.

Looking at this matchup in particular, one has to wonder if Ben Olsen is going to take a more offensive approach to this match as opposed to his three defensive midfielder lineup that he brought out against Houston last weekend. With an 18-match unbeaten streak at RFK on the line, you would think that Olsen will indeed release the hounds and go for an emphatic win.

My guess at the lineup will see United employ a few changes to get more offense into the team. I think the substitution at halftime last weekend of James Riley for Daniel Woolard was more than just fear of Woolard picking up a second yellow. Although Riley gave up the game-winning goal via the dreaded own-goal, his ability to get upfield and also to get more speed overall into the oustide channels will be a key in this match. Chris Korb will switch over to the left and the usual combo of BMac and Dejan Jakovic will be in place. Let’s hope BMac gets his poor performance in Houston out of his system as he just didn’t seem to be locked in as well as he should have been.

In midfield I also see some changes which would be bringing in Marcos Sanchez into the team which could possibly move Chris Pontius into the DeRo role (DeRo of course is serving the second game of his two-game suspension for his preseason headbutting of former United midfielder Danny Cruz) in support of lone striker Lionard Pajoy. This move would flip Nick DeLeon over to the left side of midfield with Sanchez on the right. However, Olsen could just as easily inject Sanchez into the withdrawn forward role and keep Pontius and DeLeon in their usual spots. Off the bench United should have plenty of striker firepower should it be needed. Olsen said earlier this week that Carlos Ruiz is getting more and more integrated into the squad during training and we’ve still haven’t seen the debut of Rafael either.

Either way, I think it’s important that Olsen and his squad take the match to RSL. Watching the team capitulate to Houston was tough to watch and you could almost predict that type of effort once you saw John Thorrington pressed into central midfield as the lineups were revealed. While you can’t blame the loss on that one move, Thorrington didn’t exactly cover himself in glory either and honestly he wsa put in a tough position with the suspension to DeRo at end of last week.

Looking at what RSL can offer is pretty simple. The team depth that once enveloped the squad is all but gone. Traded away in the offseason were stalwarts Will Johnson, Jamison Olave and Fabian Espindola. Additionally, usual starters Chris Wingert, Nat Borchers and Javier Morales missed their opener through injury and all are doubts for this match as well.

With that in mind, the lineup that took the field against San Jose will probably be the exact same with maybe the lone exception being Ned Grabavoy slotting into midfield for Khari Stephenson. While the lineup doesn’t exactly wow you with quality, particulary in the inexperienced back four, they did manage to pull off one of the surprising results last weekend so that in itself should not be overlooked.  Also of concern for United fans is the return of Robbie Findley alongside United-killer Saborio. While Findley doesn’t have the scoring success against United that Saborio has, his speed threat will be big in a match that I expect United to dominate possession. The counter attack ability of RSL could be deadly in this match.

Now we’ll get to arguably the weakest part of my particular game – the prediction. While I did predict a loss last week in Houston, that wasn’t exactly going out on a limb. For this match, I do see an improved performance by United in terms of dictating the tempo and creating chances and I also predict a good bounce back performance from BMac too.

I think United takes this one in a close 2-1 win with Pontius and Ruiz getting the goals. That’s right, Ruiz getting the game-winner in the second half.

De Rosario hat trick leads United to emphatic 4-1 win over Real Salt Lake

D.C. United bounced back from a disappointing midweek draw with Chivas USA thanks to a stunning hat trick from Dwayne De Rosario in United’s 4-1 win over Real Salt Lake. De Rosario scored three goals in nine minutes midway through the first half to stake United to a 4-0 lead. All three goals were world class strikes with each of them better than the other.  With the victory and four-point home stand, United inched closer to a playoff spot. United is currently one point behind New York Red Bull (with two games in hand)  for the tenth and final playoff spot, but only four points out from the overall lead in the Eastern Conference.

Andy Najar scored the games opening goal on a feed from De Rosario in the 13th minute before the De Rosario highlight show began in the 22nd minute. Najar was sent in alone by De Rosario behind the RSL defense and he thumped his shot past former United goalkeeper Nick Rimando for the 1-0 lead. Nine minutes later, the 16, 367 fans in attendance would witness history. De Rosario started the scoring sequence when his diving header beat Rimando after an exquisite cross from Najar on the wing. United had gone all season long without a headed goal until this past Wednesday evening and now they have scored twice in two games thanks to De Rosario.

De Rosario made it 3-0 in the 27th minute when he latched onto a Josh Wolff setup and curled a 22-yard shot past Rimando and into the upper 90 of the goal. As if that wasn’t enough, the Canadian stunned everyone in the building when he whipped in a free kick from 28 yards away to the near post upper 90 to complete his second hat trick of the season and the quickest hat trick from the start of a match in MLS history. Harut Karapetyan scored 3 goals in 5 minutes in a 1998 match for the Los Angeles Galaxy (De Ro scored his hat trick tonight in 9 minutes) but had come on as a second-half substitute to accomplish his feat.

Unlike Wednesday’s troubling 2-2 draw with Chivas USA, United stayed in the lead and made it very difficult for RSL to mount any credible threat. The visitors did ruin Bill Hamid’s shutout bid in the 86th minute when Alvaro Saborio got behind United’s defense and drilled a shot past the young goalkeeper. Replays showed that Saborio was offside on the play but the goal stood anyway. The games most interesting talking point, aside from the obvious performance from De Rosario, came before the ball was even kicked off when Real Salt Lake coach Jason Kreis decided to make wholesale changes to his lineup. RSL was on a five-game winning streak but felt it necessary to leave Jamison Olave, Tony Beltran and Robbie Russell back in Utah and also leave usual starters Fabian Espindola, Will Johnson, Saborio and Luis Gill on the bench. Before they could blink, they were down 4-0 and only regretting their decision to mess with a winning formula.

Up next for United is their final three road matches of the season, starting this Thursday evening in Philadelphia to face the Union on ESPN2 at 8pm. United follows that up with a quick turnaround match on Sunday afternoon with Columbus before rounding out their road schedule with a match in Vancouver on October 8th.


United Notes

– Charlie Davies, Santino Quaranta and Daniel Woolard were in the 18 but did not play. It seems Olsen had directed a few of his comments towards veteran players after the 2-2 draw with Chivas. It seems obvious who he was targeting

– When asked after the match about De Rosario’s future in DC, Olsen said “He’ll be here. Just ask the owner, he’s back there right now”, referring to United owner Will Chang who was in the back of the room at the post-game press conference

And the beat (down) goes on as United is hammered 3-0 in Salt Lake City

The more things change this season for D.C. United, the more they stay the same. Marc Burch and Branko Boskovic made their first starts for United this season but it didn’t help quell the inevitable annual humbling at the hands of Real Salt Lake as the Black-and-Red suffered more humiliation in their 3-0 defeat at Rio Tinto Stadium tonight. Alvaro Saborio, Robbie Findley and Nelson Gonzalez each scored for the home side as the easily swept away the once-proud and flagship team of MLS.

My how times have changed. United has now gone win less in five MLS matches since their 3-2 road win over Seattle on June 10th. The season for United has gotten to a point that no matter what lineup is thrown out there by coach Curt Onalfo, the mere pretense of winning seems a far fetched idea. One would be more surprised that United can actually score a goal, much less try and get themselves off the bottom of the MLS standings. With the season rapidly sinking before their eyes, United had actual hopes of turning around their moribund 2010 league existence with the addition of Boskovic and Pablo Hernandez. Both players showed promise in matches leading up tonight’s affair but the bottom line is winning in MLS. Although United has a sterling 7-0-0 record outside of MLS play this season in all competitions, it’s actually league play that really matters the most and United once again fell victim to poor finishing but more often it was poor defense on this evening.

Real Salt Lake got the scoring started in the 13th minute as Alvaro Saborio got past a poor United offside trap and sent the ball underneath Troy Perkins for the 1-0 lead. Looking at the replay it baffles the mind whey Clyde Simms decided to stop tracking Saborio and instead tried a risky offside trap deep into United’s penalty area. If that wasn’t harmful enough, the “save” attempt by Perkins certainly was as he allowed it to roll underneath him, an easily save-able shot.

United actually stood mostly toe-to-toe with the MLS Cup champions for the remainder of the half as the score stayed at 1-0. After the break it was the visitors pushing the tempo but with a season long issue of actually scoring goals, the longer this match went on the longer it seemed United were bound to give up another before scoring themselves. That turned out to be true in the 79th minute when United was burned on a counter attack that was fed by a poor decision from United’s newcomer Boskovic. The Montenegran midfielder had Santino Quaranta wide open on the left flank with no one within 20 yards of him when his attempted through pass was cut out by two RSL defenders. The ball immediately came back into United’s half of the field where it eventually found the foot of Robbie Findley who had been terrorizing United’s back line all night long with his speed. This time Findley beat Perkins to his right (another save-able shot) for the dagger that finished off United and a 2-0 lead.

However the misery was not yet completed. Not satisfied with poor positioning and generally bad defending all night long, United allowed substitute Nelson Gonzalez to slalom through the midfield and connect on a give-and-go with Andy Williams and a final toasting of Carey Talley resulted in a beautiful chip over the way off his line Perkins to complete the misery for United in their 3-0 loss.

Up next for United is a visit to Gillette Stadium next weekend to play the New England Revolution. It’s safe to say that if United can manage a win or a draw, their season will be over, if it’s not already.

United Notes

– Clyde Simms subbed out of the match with a calf injury in the 44th minute. Stephen King took his place

– United tied a team record with their 12th shutout loss of the season. They matched the futility of the 2001 Thomas Rongen lead squad. United is now only 3 shutouts away from tying the league record of 15 shutouts set by the expansion Toronto FC in 2007

– Hide the children. United is now 1-5-0 all-time at Real Salt Lake. United won the initial match (3-1) in the expansion 2005 season for RSL but since then have lost 5 straight matches by a combined score of 13-3