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DC United defeated the visiting New England Revolution 2-1 behind two second half goals from Chris Role. Photo: Martin Fernandez.

United ends two-game slide with 2-1 win over the Revolution

Washington, D.C, June 21, 2015 – Chris Rolfe (18) scored a pair of goals in the second half to lead D.C. United to an important 2-1 win over the New England Revolution at steamy RFK Stadium and extend their lead in the Eastern Conference to seven points. Photo: Martin Fernandez.

The win also pushed United (9-5-4, 31 points) to the top of the Supporters Shield race above the Seattle Sounders and Vancouver Whitecaps who both sit two points behind the Black-and-Red.

Both teams had midweek U.S. Open Cup matches to deal with but both sides held out the majority of their starting players for this match up on East Capitol Street. With the Revolution (6-5-6, 24 points) only four points behind United with a game in hand at the start of the match, it was of major importance for the visitors to set the tone and let United know they have a challenge for the top spot in the East.

The Revolution took advantage of a sleepy beginning for United and gained the early lead in the 10th minute. United midfielder Perry Kitchen was inattentive in his marking and allowed Revs midfielder Lee Ngyuen to slip behind him and the U.S. International fed a beautiful pass behind United’s defense where former United forward Charlie Davies smoothly side-footed a left-footed shot into the far corner past Bill Hamid for the 1-0 lead.

United very much were feeling the muggy conditions through the first half and struggled to maintain possession against the Revolution and were fortunate not to go down 2-0 in the 23rd minute when Hamid came up huge and smothered a goal-bound effort from Chris Tierney after he was sent in alone by another defense-splitting pass from Nguyen.

That save from Hamid seemed to wake United up and they upped the tempo through the remainder of the first half but as has been the case for long stretches of time in recent weeks, United just couldn’t find that final pass or final ball to set up a scoring chance. Chris Rolfe’s individual effort late in the first half was the sum total of United’s chances through the first 45 minutes.

After the break not much changed and the Revs quickly had another dangerous opportunity to double the lead when Nguyen’s screaming drive from 22 yards narrowly flashed over the crossbar. After that let off, United started to slowly turn the tempo of the match to their favor and started gaining more possession and with that came more opportunities to level the match. In the 56th minute United nearly tied the match when Fabian Espindola somehow worked his way to the end line under heavy pressure and floated a cross to the back post where Rolfe’s one-timer eluded the Revolution’s charging goalkeeper Bobby Shuttlesworth but couldn’t get past defender Chris Tierney who cleared the shot out of danger.

The Revolution were made to pay for their conservative approach in settling for the 1-0 lead and United equalized in the 70th minute. The same combination of Espindola to Rolfe this time was successful when Espindola’s right-footed cross floated over the entire Revolution defense and right onto the foot of Rolfe who easily tucked in the volley to level the match at 1-1.

United, despite not playing very well in the heat and humidity for most of the match, had a golden opportunity to go for the win when substitute Miguel Aguilar came up with the games biggest play. Aguilar was a breath of fresh air as he instantly pumped life into United’s attack and when he made a run towards the upper corner of the penalty area in the 80th minute, he was clumsily clattered into by former Georgetown midfielder Steve Neumann right on the edge of the penalty area. Referee Ismail Elfath didn’t hesitate to point to the penalty spot and Chris Rolfe calmly pushed the ball to Shuttleworth’s left and into the goal for second goal of the game and team-leading sixth goal of the season.

The victory for United was the fifth this season after allowing the opening goal of the game. United had won one total match the past two seasons combined when going behind by a goal. Up next for United is a midweek match up in Chicago to take on the Fire on Wednesday night at 8:30 pm EST. The match will be televised locally on Comcast SportsNet.

United Notes

  • Chris Pontius was slated to start the match at left midfield but was pulled during pregame warm ups with a slight calf issue. The move was precautionary according to Ben Olsen after the match
  • Davy Arnaud picked up a yellow card and will be suspended for the game in Chicago on Wednesday. Arnaud will be eligible to return next Saturday night in Toronto

 

DC Looks to Keep Rolling Over Revs

DC United will look to catapult themselves into the Eastern Conference lead as well as keep their four match home winning streak going with the full three points over long time arch enemy, the New England Revolution when they visit RFK tomorrow night.

A win would also cement United at the top of the Eastern Conference well into June which would be the first time United has held the Conference lead this late in the season since 2007 when they won the Supporter’s Shield. Unfortunately, United is still nursing quite a few injuries and hasn’t beaten NE in RFK since the last game of the 2008 season when Francis Doe scored a brace.

With regular starters, Robbie Russell, Nick DeLeon, Chris Pontius, and Danny Cruz all out with hamstring strains or in the case of Pontius, a sore butt, it’s obvious DC coach Ben Olsen will have to juggle his lineup yet again. However, with Canadian central defender Dejan Jakovic back from injury the defense should be in good shape, and the offense has suddenly found some decent depth with the emergence of DC’s designated player duo of Branko Boskovic and Hamdi Salihi. In addition, the surprising wing play of Englishman Lewis Neal as well as the resurrection of Honduran Andy Najar has eased the loss of DeLeon and now Cruz.

The only move of interest will be if Olsen tries another experiment with Boskovic on the wing and starting Josh Wolff again alongside Salihi or if he will finally allow all his highest paid players to play their best positions by giving the keys to the midfield to Boskovic and pushing DeRo up to forward. Olsen has been loathe to do that so far this year, but if he does pull the trigger on that move and it works as it did against Colorado and in the second half against Toronto, DC will become a ridiculously explosive offensive team that should be able to score on anyone.

If he does make that move, DC’s lineup should look like this: DeRo and Salihi at forward; Neal, Bosko, Perry Kitchen, and Najar in midfield from left to right; and Daniel Woolard, Brandon McDonald, Jakovic, and Chris Korb along the backline from left to right in front of Bill Hamid.

NE, on the other hand is pretty much healthy with only former DC midfielder Clyde Simms out with tendinitis and attacker Lee Nguyen listed as probable with a sore shoulder. The Revs have been pretty explosive themselves of late with 9 goals in their last 4 games after only 5 goals in their first 7 games now that they’ve worked themselves into Jay Heaps’ refreshingly attacking posture. However, their defense is still their Achilles heel as it was when DC beat them 2-1in NE in April.

I think Nguyen plays and therefore it’s almost certain Heaps will go with the same lineup that tied Houston 2-2 a week ago. Frenchman Saer Sene, who has 3 goals in NE’s last two games, and former DC striker, Blake Brettschneider at forward. In midfield, Heaps will send out Nguyen, Shalrie Joseph, Ryan Guy, Benny Feilhaber from left to right. Across the backline should be Chris Tierney, Stephen McCarthy, A.J. Soares, and Kevin Alston in front of Uncle Fester in the nets.

So, looking at the matchups, DC should be in fine shape. Offensively, DeRo and Salihi will easily befuddle the stork McCarthy and the capable, but unspectacular Soares. Neal against Alston is probably a net loss, but as long as he pins Alston back, DC is in good shape and assuming Najar has gotten it drilled into his brain to stay wide and get deep, the under-rated Tierney will be in deep trouble on the right side, especially as Najar will be itching to show he wants to reclaim his starting spot he lost to Cruz.

The wild card will be Boskovic in the center. Guy was less than convincing playing defensive midfield and arguably cost NE two points against Houston, so if Boskovic outplays him so thoroughly that Joseph is forced to stay back to help, then NE is in very deep trouble. Plus, Boskovic’s free kicks have been the best since Christian Gomez was swinging ball into the area. If NE gives up a lot of fouls deep, Bosko will punish them.

Defensively, things are not quite so rosy, but still well enough in DC’s favor. Obviously, Sene is a handful, but Brettschneider should not be too much trouble for his former team mates. So as long as Woolard plays his usual solid game and keeps Feilhaber under control that might be enough to sway the advantage Nguyen has over Korb. I expect NE to get a goal or two, but DC should get a lot more than that.

All of which is good for DC because the karma has been against United when the Revs come to town lately. DC was shutout the last two years by NE in RFK, and it took a stoppage time goal from Ben Olsen to avoid being shutout and pull off a draw with NE in 2009. DC was even knocked from the Open Cup by the Revs last year at home in the game that cost Boskovic his season with a knee injury. So, while DC holds a comfortable edge over NE overall in RFK at 16-8-4, none of that success has been seen lately.

Current trends are much more promising, though. DC has only lost twice in the past 12 games and has currently won 3 out of the last 4 including the last two in a row. DC is also a very healthy 5-1-2 at home and unbeaten in RFK since the opener when it took a stoppage time goal for KC to squeak past United. Plus, DC has been just crushing teams here with 12 goals in their last 4 homes games, all wins. NE on the other hand, is 1-5 on the road including 0-3 with only one goal in their last three road matches since their shocking (then) win in LA.

So there you have it. The book shows DC a comfortable winner. Fate has been fickle of late, but then again this is the year DC seems to have decided to restore the order of the universe. DC is finding its way back to the top of the East and seems like it might be able to stay there. United has a couple two game win streaks in the past month after not getting back to back wins in almost 3 years. In fact, beating NE would give them their first 3 game winning streak since June 2008 when Gallardo was patrolling DC’s midfield and they won 4 in a row that magical June before the bottom fell out on that poor season.

But more importantly, DC has taken back RFK and is winning in front of their long suffering fans who have witnessed a mere 7 wins combined in RFK the past two seasons. Beating NE would see them almost equal that total in the first half of this season.

DC Seeking to Overtake the Revolution

DC United, unbeaten in three matches look to vault past The New England Revolution into 5th place in the Eastern Conference standings if DC coach Ben Olsen wins his duel with NE’s Jay Heaps as the youngest two coaches to face each other in an MLS match when United visits Gillette Stadium tomorrow afternoon.

Heaps became the latest MLS player to matriculate into coaching when he was surprisingly named head coach of the Revs, the team he retired from two years before. However, at 35 he is slightly older than Ben Olsen who took over DC United last year and won’t be 35 until next month. Surely the youngest two head coaches to ever face each other in MLS history.

Unfortunately, both of their respective teams did not get off the mark very well so far in this MLS season, each team with resounding losses in their first two matches before inching back into respectability recently. United is unbeaten in their last three having given up a mere one goal in that span, a goal that should have been disallowed as FCD’s Blas Perez was clearly offside. The Revs on the other hand were on a two game winning streak until giving up a stoppage time goal in Dallas last weekend for a 1-0 loss.

And, like United the weekend before who lost Brandon McDonald to a league mandated suspension, NE will be without the services of star midfielder, Shalrie Joseph as he was suspended midweek by the MLS disciplinary committee for a serious foul on FCD’s Ricardo Villar.

Undoubtedly, the loss of their best and most experienced player is boon for United, especially as former United midfielder, Clyde Simms, who NE picked up from DC in the offseason is ailing with a calf strain and designated playmaker, Benny Feilhaber, likely still out with a heel strain, NE’s midfield could be gutted for this match.

My money is on Simms making the starting XI, but not Feilhaber. Last week Heaps used rookie Kelyn Rowe as the playmaker to mixed results, but he scored against LA in that upset win, and along with the strong play of French forward Saer Sene, NE has boasted a surprisingly agile attack for a team from NE schooled in Nicolball.

So, I expect Heaps to continue to play attacking ball surrounding Sene as the lone forward with Rowe, Irishman Ryan Guy, and Lee Nguyen in attacking roles backed up by Simms to complete the midfield. Across their backline which has only given up two goals in their last three matches, since giving up four in their first two, should be Chris Tierney on the left, Stephen McCarthy and AJ Soares in the center, and the newly signed Germna defender, Flo Lechner in place of the injured Kevin Alston at right back in front of longtime United nemesis Matt Reis.

DC, on the other hand has a full roster to choose from, but that could mean some very tough choices for Ben Olsen. With rookie Nick Deleon and Danny Cruz playing so well for Chris Pontius and Andy Najar, it will be tough to sit either one of them in favor of the incumbent starter recently back to health or from Honduran National team duty respectively. Even tougher will be pulling Joe Willis from goal for Bill Hamid after what should have been three straight shutouts in the last three games had that Dallas goal been disallowed as it should have. Then there’s what to do with Brandon McDonald, who was very capably replaced by Dejan Jakovic in central defense against Seattle.

Another head scratcher will be what to do with Hamdi Salihi and Branko Boskovic. Olsen has persisted in starting Salihi, but although very hard working, he has produced no goals although by all that is holy his shot off the crossbar against Seattle deserved to be the game winner. Still, considering Boskovic is clearly making a huge contribution in the limited minutes he has been seeing, and Maicon Santos scored two of United’s last four goals, so the temptation to sit Salihi, move MVP Dwayne De Rosario to forward and insert Boskovic into the lineup has to be banging away insistently in Olsen’s brain.

However, I predict Olsen stays the course and starts the exact lineup that faced Seattle and will pick his spots to insert players as it becomes necessary. Which means I think Salihi and Santos start at forward, DeLeon, DeRo, Perry Kitchen, and Danny Cruz start left to right across the midfield, and the defense will be Daniel Woolard, Emiliano Dudar, Dejan Jakovic, and Robbie Russell at right back assuming his ankle knock has receded, Chris Korb if he’s still hobbled in front of Willis.

Looking at the matchups and the style of play, DC has clear advantages, since both Seattle, Vancouver, and Dallas to some extent all play a similar style as NE’s attacking system and DC only gave up a goal over that whole stretch. NE lives or dies on service to their big man Sene, and while it might be tempting to start McDonald to bang with him, Dudar is plenty capable of hanging with him and together with Jakovic is the among the best ball handling central defensemen in all of MLS, so if the midfield do their job and Billy Joe Willis keeps pitching shutouts, NE will struggle to score.

And the matchups in midfield favor DC. Cruz can pester anyone into an aneurism, Nguyen will be hard pressed to have an impact on the match. DeLeon against Rowe is a rookie of the year matchup and could go either way, but Ryan Guy has shown nothing so far that should trouble Perry Kitchen.

If so, that frees up DeRo to seriously help the attack, and the defending league MVP has been strangely silent so far this year. This could be a breakout game for him, especially with no Joseph to worry about and with a former teammate in Simms hoping to contain him. Also, NE’s central defense has not been impressive at all despite the recent string of decency. McCarthy is a converted midfielder, who has been caught out repeatedly and ejected once already for a hack after being caught out. Soares is decent, but hardly imposing. Salihi and Santos should be able to find holes in and around those two, especially with DeRo’s help, and even assuming the German stuffs DeLeon, and Cruz struggles against the under-rated Tierney.

Clearly on paper, DC has the edge. However, it must be said, DC often has the edge on paper, but that has rarely translated to wins in NE, which is among DC’s most unlucky venues in all of MLS. Incredibly unlucky things seem to regularly happen to United there leading to stinging losses, like the one last year where a clear hand ball was not called and a phantom PK doomed DC in the first 20 minutes. Or two years ago when United peppered the NE goal all game only to see former NE hardman Pat Phelan score his improbable only MLS goal to decide the match. The list goes on and on.

So, it’s one of the most heated rivalries in MLS history as these two original eastern conference foes face each other for the 57th time in league play, and while United holds a slim edge over the Revs all time with a 25-23-8 record, DC is a mere 9-15-4 at NE. Even worse, DC hasn’t beaten NE anywhere since 2008 and hasn’t won in NE in almost 5 years since Josh Gros scored the game winner early in a 3-0 win in 2007. In fact the Revs are currently on a 5 game winning streak over their long time rival.

So there you have it. On paper, odds makers should be backing DC. History and the soccer gods are just as clearly behind the Revs at home. I expect a 2-2 tie, which actually would be enough to tie DC with NE in points in the East, but DC does not have to win to sneak by the Revs in the standings. A draw would give them the lead on goal differential and the edge in head to head meetings.

CHarlie Davies vs Seattle Sounders

DC Hosts Chivas as Playoff Hopes Hang in Balance

DC United hasn’t been to the playoffs since 2007, and Charlie Davies (pictured) was brought in to rectify that and certainly helped the cause with a hat trick against Chivas last week. But, if he and United harbor any hopes of actually breaking that playoff drought, a second win over Chivas in 10 days is an imperative. However, that might not be as easy as it sounds as Chivas has pounded nails in United’s coffin with late season wins over the Black and Red in recent years.

United won the first four meetings versus Chivas, but unfortunately hasn’t swept them since 2006. However, that’s pretty much what it will take to spark DC’s playoff hopes this year. Anything less than 3 points tomorrow night, considering RSL looming on Saturday, and United would need a miracle to regroup and make the post-season.

DC handled the Goats easily 10 days ago beating them 3-0, and given Chivas’ historic lack of success, you’d think DC should be able to scrape out all the points when their playoff lives hang in the balance. But then again, United and Chivas have been in pretty much these exact same relative positions before and DC failed miserably.

In 2008 and 2009, United had their playoff hopes dealt crushing blows by shutout losses to lowly Chivas, in RFK no less, in the third to last game of each respective season. In 2010, it was a less crucial, but just as painful loss in the ToolBox to last place Chivas that helped secure last place in the entire league for United in easily their worst season in history.

Even worse, since that glorious win over Chivas that unfortunately cost Pontius his season, United got pummeled in Seattle with Charlie Davies barely a shadow of the player that hung a hat-trick on Chivas to put him back among the league leaders for the Golden Boot. It didn’t help that Ngwenya was his strike partner in Seattle as Wolff wasn’t quite ready to start, but it is ominous that United’s DP striker’s effectiveness disappeared that quickly.

However, it seems likely Olsen will have Josh Wolff available to start against Chivas with the hope that he and Davies can find the form that has seen them combine for 16 goals and 6 assists so far this season. Goalkeeper Bill Hamid’s hamstring woes also appear to be over and he should be ready to start, although central defender Dejan Jakovic stills seems to be a week away from starting.

So in this critical match, it seems likely Olsen goes with all healthy guns blazing and trots out Wolff and Davies at forward, Dwayne De Rosario, Clyde Simms, and Andy Najar in midfield for certain, and I have to wonder if the prodigal son, Santino Quaranta, gets a shot at that left side midfield as Austin DaLuz was less than effective against Seattle (although to be fair everyone was less than effective against Seattle). Without Jakovic, the defense is certain to be Perry Kitchen, Ethan White, Brandon McDonald, and Daniel Woolard for the third game in a row, in front of Hamid.

Chivas on the other hand is just as desperate for a playoff push and has had trouble winning or even scoring of late, having been shutout three of their last four games all losses, although Juan Pablo Angel did score for both teams in a 3-2 loss to Chicago last weekend. But, Chivas coach Robin Fraser has some players to work back into the starting lineup as well.

Obviously, center back David Lopes will be available after serving his ill deserved suspension from that unfortunate tackle with Pontius. Also, Argentine playmaker Marcos Mondaini got the start in Chicago and might be the key to Chivas’ offense down the stretch. United did not face him earlier and also got a bit lucky that Alejandro Moreno, a well documented United killer, only came in off the bench when they were already down to ten men. Chivas is a more composed team offensively with all three of those guys playing together.

So, it seems likely Fraser goes with Angel and Venezuelan international, Moreno as the forward pairing. In midfield, the extremely under-rated Nick Labrocca, Mondaini, Kiwi Simon Elliot, and likely Justin Braun should start going right to left. Perhaps Jorge Flores for Braun, or maybe even Blair Gavin for Elliott if they are feeling the squeeze of this being their second of three games in 7 days, and considering hosting TFC on the weekend should be the more winnable game on paper for them, but I’m thinking Fraser wants a set lineup from here on out for their own playoff run.

In defense, I would assume Ante Jazic on the left and Michael Umana in one of the center spots, but after that, Fraser does not seem to have settled on a the other center back between Lopes and Zarek Valentin, and right back has been a revolving door of Michael LaHoud, Mariano Trujillo, and even Ben Zemanski. LaHoud has played the most lately, but then again Chivas is mired in a four game losing streak and he hasn’t exactly distinguished himself.

Which makes the matchups pretty decent for DC. Defensively, Angel is of course a danger, especially with Mondaini to set him up, and of course Curious George has been known to light up DC, especially in RFK where I believe he has something like 5 career goals. But, Ethan White has been pretty solid all year, and Brandon McDonald might very well be United’s defensive MVP. Both are athletic and aggressive enough to trouble Angel and Moreno, as long as Monkeyboy doesn’t get away with too many theatrics, and Simms contains Mondaini half decently, DC will be in good shape, as I doubt Braun or Flores troubles Kitchen too much, and blue collar Woolard is a good match for lunch pail Labrocca.

Offensively, if Wolff and Davies are back in form, United should be able to crack a Chivas defense that has given up 9 goals in their last four games. Clearly, Umana and Lopes or Valetin do not have the speed to stay with Davies, and certainly he and Wolff has the savvy to flummox them as well. So, while Najar might have trouble in his duel with the Canadian assassin, Jazic, Da Luz, or my hope Quaranta, should be able to beat the converted midfielder Lahoud fairly regulary. Then obviously DeRo is a tough out for any defensive midfielder in the league not named Alonso, so he gets the nod over Elliott for sure.

As for the trends, they do favor DC slightly even though Chivas has been tough on United late in recent years. Historically, United is 7-4-2 over Chivas all time, outscoring them 22-17. In RFK, United’s record is 4-2, outscoring Chivas 10-8, and they won their last meeting here 3-2 last year.

More importantly, as mentioned, Chivas is on a four game losing streak, but is also winless in their last six, and has only one win in their past 8 games. They are also 3-6-6 on the road with their only road wins being in NE two months ago, a shocker in NY in May, and a win over SJ in April. However, they do have a troubling string of draws against the East as well. On the road in the East, they have snagged draws in Toronto, Columbus, and KC to go with those wins making them 2-3-3 against the East on the road so far.

DC, on the other hand has been playing the much better football of late, aside from the Seattle debacle, but their home record is nothing to write home about, however. DC is a barely respectable 3-3-6 in RFK, and while they won their last home match 4-0 over Vancouver seemingly an eon ago, that was their first home win since May 4 when they beat Seattle, having gone 0-2-5 prior to the Vancouver shellacking. And that’s without even mentioning United’s now epic failure to win two games in a row for going on three years now.

Well, RFK simply has to become a fortress again and United had better figure out how to generate an actual win streak, or the playoffs are a lost cause. It starts right now with a win over Chivas. If they can’t pull that off, why would anyone think they can hold their own against RSL on Saturday? Or win in Philly next week, or in Columbus the week after that? But a win over Chivas and some luck against RSL and DC goes into Philly and Columbus with some confidence and a hope for enough points to catch NY or Houston.

Time for DC to put up some wins at home, or start making plans for next year. Simple as that.

Davies hat trick propels United to 3-0 road win over Chivas USA

Charlie Davies broke out of his own personal goal scoring drought in a big with way with all three goals tonight in D.C. United’s 3-0 win over Chivas USA at the Home Depot Center in Carson, California. With the win United leapfrogged three MLS teams and into playoff positioning in the 10th position with multiple games in hand on everyone in MLS. However, the win may have come at a steep price as it appeared that midfielder/forward Chris Pontius may by lost for the remainder of the season with a serious lower-leg injury suffered just minutes after assisting on Davie’s third goal in the 66th minute.

Davies got the scoring started in the 9th minute when United was the benefactor of a fortunate bounce off of referee Ricardo Salazar. Juan Pablo Angel, Chivas USA’s recently acquired forward, was trying to safely pass back to his defense when the ball struck Salazar and fell right into the path of Dwayne De Rosario. The Canadian sped into the opposition half of the field and sent a perfect ball down the wing to Pontius. Pontius then centered the ball to the back post where a sliding Davies punched it into the empty net for a 1-0 lead. This was Davies first goal since United’s 2-2 draw at home against Houston back in July. The significance of the goal was not lost as Davies, wearing #9, scored his ninth goal of the season in the 11th minute. All this on the eve of 9-11.

United doubled the lead just four minutes later again benefiting from a defensive mistake. Andy Najar was sent down the right wing by De Rosario and his harmless cross into the box was not cleared well by defender Ben Zemanski and it fell right on the boots of Pontius. Pontius calmly slid the ball to his left to a wide open Davies who converted to make it 2-0 for the Black-and-Red. United made it to halftime but surely should have increased the lead when Davies somehow managed to miss an easy opportunity to make it 3-0 when he sent a shot narrowly wide of the post late in the half after being set up expertly by De Rosario.

Davies did however get his hat trick in the 66th minute with United’s third counter attack goal of the evening. Pontius broke through the Chivas midfield and then was in alone on goal but unselfishly squared the ball to Davies to complete the 3-0 scoreline. Pontius’ night and perhaps his fantastic season may have ended just a few minutes later when he was involved in a nasty collision with Chivas USA defender Davie Lopes. Lopes and Pontius collided and the third-year player from UC Santa Barbara came out the worst for wear with a bad lower leg injury. Suspicion of a broken leg or ankle could end Pontius’ best season to date in MLS.

United will now turn their attention to another West Coast opponent when they face the Seattle Sounders next weekend in Seattle on Saturday, September 17th.

 

United Notes

– Head coach Ben Olsen started Pontius as a forward alongside Davies and inserted Santino Quaranta into the left side of midfield. De Rosario dropped back into the attacking midfield spot

– United was forced to make two injury substitutions as Clyde Simms came off at the half in favor of Stephen King and Marc Burch came on for Pontius

– Bill Hamid seemed to re-aggravate his hamstring injury from the Chicago match two weeks ago early in the match. However, he stayed on the field and had Brandon McDonald take goal kicks. Hamid clearly was favoring his injury as it limited his movement but it didn’t stop him from gaining his sixth shutout of the season

Missed chances, frustration rule the night in United’s 1-0 loss to New England

Stephen McCarthy’s headed goal in the 73rd minute and Matt Reis’ fantastic goalkeeping allowed the visiting New England Revolution to waltz into RFK Stadium and steal three points in their 1-0 win over D.C. United. United controlled play throughout the 90 minutes but were left with nothing after Reis made 7 saves and United’s Charlie Davies blazed a 44th minute penalty kick over the bar to en  capsulize United’s night of frustration.

United has now gone 6 matches at home without a win (0-2-4) since defeating Seattle 2-1 in early May and continue to stagnate in the middle of a very winnable Eastern Conference. New England has beaten United three times this season (including an Open Cup win) despite being heavily outplayed in each match. Tonight’s match was no different as United swarmed on the wounded Revs (win less in 9 matches heading into the match, including a 3-0 home loss on Sunday to Philadelphia) and spurned many great chances to take the lead. Dwayne De Rosario should have put United ahead in the 2nd minute but couldn’t time his leap to meet an Andy Najar cross right in front of an open goal. De Rosario had a number of shots on Reis with an 18th minute effort the best of the lot as Reis dove to his left to palm away the goal bound effort.

United figured to have finally figured out Reis when Josh Wolff’s attempted cross in the 43rd minute hit the elbow of Pat Phelan and gave United a penalty kick. Davies, 5-for-5 on penalties to date this season, stepped up and leaned back too far as he watched his shot sail over the bar. That seemed to be the final straw as United didn’t put much effort into their second half on a night where the heat and humidity were at ridiculous levels.

The Revolution took full advantage as only the Revolution seem to know how to do as they converted a corner kick in the 73rd minute for the game-winner. On the subsequent play leading up to the corner, rookie Perry Kitchen attempted to head back a ball to goalkeeper Bill Hamid but scuffed his attempt and it went out for a corner. With everyone in the building knowing New England’s only real chance to score on this night was from a set piece, sure enough United allowed it to happen.

United now has given up a staggering 10 goals on headers this season while producing none themselves. I won’t either bother you with the fact that United hasn’t scored from a corner in MLS play in over two years.

United now has 10 days off of league play before their next match in San Jose on July 30th. United will host English Premier League side Everton on Saturday evening at RFK Stadium in an international friendly.

Ben Olsen

Late goal denies United’s first home win since May; draw 2-2 with Houston

Ben Olsen

DC United coach Ben Olsen reacts to Brian Ching's 89th minute header off the leg of D.C. United defender Perry Kitchen ending United's bid for their first home win since May 4th. Photo: Martin Fernandez.

Brian Ching’s 89th minute header off the leg of D.C. United defender Perry Kitchen spoiled United’s bid for their first home win since May 4th as the clubs battled to a 2-2 draw. Chris Pontius and birthday boy Charlie Davies scored on either side of halftime for United while Brad Davis got Houston’s other goal on a sketchy penalty late in the first half.

 

Chris Pontius put the home side ahead in the 31st minute with a wicked 25-yard shot that Houston goalkeeper Tally Hall had no shot to save. Dax McCarty, starting his first game in nearly two months, hustled to keep the ball alive along the left sideline in front of the visitors bench. He then quickly spotted Josh Wolff who in-turn fed Pontius. Pontius took two touches to set himself up and then launched a missle into the near side netting for a 1-0 lead. United kept applying pressure and should have gone 2-0 into the lead when Charlie Davies’ point-blank header was well saved by Hall to keep the match at 1-0.

However, in a moment of perhaps bad karma for United, Brian Ching somehow managed to bungle his way through the United back line and threatened Bill Hamid in goal. Hamid came out to narrow the angle and Ching went down with little to no contact and a penalty was awarded. Considering the way United managed the game-tying goal late last weekend at Rio Tinto Stadium with Charlie Davies’ clear dive, you knew a call like this was in the making. Brad Davis stepped up and sent the ball underneath Hamid to level the match a 1-1 going into halftime.

After the restart it was clear that United did not bring the same energy they brought in the first 45 minutes as they slogged their way through the first 25 minutes of the second stanza. Out of seemingly nowhere, a piece of individual brilliance from Andy Najar brought about the go ahead goal for United in the 73rd minute. Najar received a long diagonal pass from Daniel Woolard deep in the box and easily moved around Houston defender Mike Chabala and closed in on goal and has his shot stuffed. The rebound fell nicely to the Davies and with the help of Najar clearing the path to goal, Davies slotted the ball home to give the home side a 2-1 lead.

That lead was precarious at best as Houston were threatening to score for nearly the entire second half and they finally got that equalizer in the 89th minute. Geoff Cameron got a ball at midfield and easily outdistanced Clyde Simms to the top of the penalty area where his layoff pass was met by Colin Clarke. The left-footer was hardly challenged when he sent in a delicate chip to the middle of the penalty area where Brian Ching was all alone and his header nicked off the leg of Kitchen and bounded past the helpless Hamid for the final goal of the 2-2 match. Had the header gone clean through, Hamid was well prepared to make the stop but the deflected ball was too much for the young net minder to recover from.

United will now turn their attention to the Philadelphia Union who come to town next weekend to take on the Black-and-Red at 6:30 pm at RFK Stadium

 

United Notes

– With their two goals tonight, United equaled their entire seasons output from last season with their 20th and 21st goals in only 15 matches. Last season’s team set an MLS record for goal scoring futility with 21 goals in 30 matches

– An American affair tonight as United started 10 Americans while the Dynamo started 8 of their own. United brought in 2 American subs while all three of the Dynamo subs were American

Davies late penalty earns United a 1-1 draw against Real Salt Lake

Charlie Davies’ 85th minute penalty kick conversion afforded D.C. United a 1-1 draw against undermanned Real Salt Lake in Sandy, Utah this evening. Plenty of discussion will come post game on the merits of United earning the draw as Charlie Davies clearly dove to draw favor from referee Terry Vaughn. Davies stepped up and just barely got the ball underneath former United goalkeeper Nick Rimando to level the match.Vaughn had earlier awarded the home team a penalty in the first half when Clyde Simms’ sliding tackle prevented the ball from getting past him and inadvertently hitting his arm.

Fabian Espindola stepped up and sent United keeper Bill Hamid the wrong way to give RSL the 1-0 lead in the 38th minute. Up until that point, United had done well to take the game to RSL as they were missing a number of key players including stalwart midfield maestro Javier Morales (out for another 4 months with ankle injury) and star striker Alvaro Saborio (Gold Cup duty for Costa Rica). As what usually happens when the Black-and-Red visit RSL, the home side started to turn the tide and dominate possession though their chances on goal were few and far between after taking the 1-0 lead.

After halftime United coach Ben Olsen subbed out Clyde Simms in favor of Dax McCarty and it seemed to stem RSL and gave United a few opportunities to get into the match. In the 52nd minute United nearly leveled the match as a nice passing sequence led to a Blake Brettschneider back heel setup for Chris Pontius who’s 27 -yard screamer slammed off the crossbar. Both teams were really not putting much forth after that and the game seemed to be heading for yet another disappointing finish for United.

That is of course until Charlie Davies latched onto a ball heading deep into RSL territory. The speedy striker got into the box and appeared to have dove over the legs of an RSL defender and United shockingly were awarded the penalty. After Davies tied the match, the visitors actually were another crossbar away from stealing 3 points on a well worked free kick from the edge of the box. Andy Najar stood over the ball and sent a square pass to the middle of the penalty area where once again Pontius whacked the shot off the crossbar and out of bounds nearly giving United a dramatic late win.

As it stands, United will gladly take the road point and head back to D.C. and look forward to a rematch with the Houston Dynamo who thumped United 4-1 in Houston in late April.

Young United learning to get results

It wasn’t too long ago that there seemed no hope for D.C. United’s short-term future. That includes on the field problems as well as off. We’ll leave the off field issues for another day, instead looking at what Ben Olsen (pictured) and the much maligned front office of United has put together so far this young season.

It started at the SuperDraft when United “got their man” in Perry Kitchen with the third overall pick, according to Technical Director Dave Kasper. His Akron team mate Chris Korb (2nd round pick) soon joined the fold and unheralded South Carolina striker Blake Brettschneider followed the next day as a Supplemental draft pick, a throw-away pick if you like. So few of those picks pan out in MLS, it was worth it for United to trade Adam Cristman and a higher Supplemental pick for the opportunity to grab Brettschneider.

All of this plus the signing of Ethan White from their Academy Team (White played his freshman year at the University of Maryland) resulted in a marked improvement over years past in regards to the SuperDraft with the lone exception being the 2009 Draft when United snagged Chris Pontius and Rodney Wallace in back-to-back picks. Wallace has since been dealt to Portland for Dax McCarty. Portland seems the winner right now in that deal, but McCarty will come around soon enough.

And last, but not least was the signing of U.S. International Charlie Davies from Sochaux FC in France on a one-year loan with an option to buy at seasons end. All of this has added up to a solid, if not reasonable start to the 2011 MLS campaign with the team going 4-4-4 through their first 12 matches of the season.

Last season’s disastrous squad was a wretched 3-8-1 through 12 matches last season on their way to their worst season in history finishing at a woeful 6-20-4. Now of course anything United did this season would have to have been any kind of improvement over last year, right? Well, yes and no.

Yes in the sense that essentially anything would be a major improvement over last season and no in that one simply has to measure themselves at a higher level than the worst offensive team in the history of MLS. All that being said, let’s take a look at where the improvements have taken place and where some work still needs to be done.

Letting Go Is Very Hard To Do

For years D.C. United has played to a philosophy that nowadays in MLS is almost a thing of the past. Ball possession and maintaining control of the tempo was the highest priority and walking the ball into the goal was the right way to play for so many years at East Capitol Street. However, much like anything else in life, the game has evolved in MLS over the past few years and United’s predictable mantra was getting figured out too easily by their opponents.

In other words, United got old very quickly. Jaime Moreno, Christian Gomez, Luciano Emilio and a number of South American failures soon followed suit and even though some of the aforementioned players actually lit MLS up in goal scoring and in prowess, it became very evident very quickly that their style of play had past it’s sell by date in MLS circles.

United went from back-to-back Supporters Shield winners in 2006 and 2007 to being left at the rear of MLS for a third season running heading into 2011 and things had to change. United’s 2010 season will go down in league history as a low water mark for the franchise and the league to be honest. Do you really think that MLS wants D.C. United as a bottom feeder in MLS? No way..

Getting Younger Quickly

United got to work right away after the 2010 disaster and formulated a game-plan to improve the squad and move forward in 2011. However, their was one big issue to resolve first. They needed a Head Coach. Ben Olsen fell on his sword and took over the reigns after Curt Onalfo was fired at mid-season and Olsen did well as could be expected trying to turn around a sinking ship.

United management, specifically Team President and C.E.O. Kevin Payne, had said that Olsen would not be a candidate for the job during the off-season citing a need to find a more experience candidate. When it was clear late in 2010 that no candidates were sending a positive enough vibe for the job, the front office turned to their loyal servant Olsen and offered him the job full-time.

Olsen didn’t hesitate to take the job and likewise didn’t hesitate to start making moves beginning with their releasing a number of players who contributed very little to the cause in 2010, Danny Allsopp, Adam Cristman, Pablo Hernandez and the iconic Jaime Moreno all were ushered out. Next up was the SuperDraft in Baltimore and the haul that day combined with the signings of White and Davies plus the already established youth on the squad (2010 MLS Rookie of the Year Andy Najar and goalkeeper Bill Hamid)  has not disappointed yet for the Black-and-Red so far in 2011.

United is now putting out lineups that are amongst the youngest in MLS history and still getting good results as evident by their current 5-game unbeaten streak which has seen the team settle nicely into 3rd place in the very crowded MLS Eastern Conference.

With Youth Comes Joy and Frustration

There are two sides to enjoying an infusion of youth into a once-too old squad. For one thing, the effort and stamina on display is miles ahead of what it has been for the past three seasons. However, one has to put up with youthful mistakes and there have been plenty this season as a number of big losses started to pile up early in the season as United struggled through April with a record (during the month) of 1-3-1. Even worse were the blowout losses to Colorado (4-1), New York (4-0 at home) and Houston (4-1).

Since then however things have improved greatly as they are currently on a 5-game unbeaten streak since their loss to Houston on April 29th.  The key to United’s turnaround in defense is a solid commitment to defend as a unit and keep the silly mistakes such as fouling in and around the penalty area, freeing up the opposition to score on set pieces which United has been generally poor at defending.

Olsen has thrown caution to the wind by inserting rookies Ethan White and Perry Kitchen to the backline on a full-time basis and the results have been very good. After giving up 16 goals in their first 7 matches, United and their kiddie-corp have given up only 5 goals in 4 matches, including two shutouts from Bill Hamid. United is now continually putting out a squad that has as many as 7 players 25 years old and younger out on the field. No one else in MLS is doing that and still getting results.

Offense is Better, But Still Needs Improving

When you’re coming off of a record setting season of futiilty, almost any move you make during the off-season simply has to pay off. The addition of Davies and MLS veteran Josh Wolff have boosted United as they have scored 6 and 3 goals respectively through the first third of the season. In fact, Davies total at this point exceeds Andy Najar and Danny Allsopp’s team high of 5 goals from last season. Additionally Chris Pontius has come back from a lost season of injuries during 2010 to chip in 4 goals himself. The team overall has scored 16 goals through 12 matches and incredibly only needs to score 6 more goals to surpass the season total of 21 from last year! Methinks they will surpass that amount by the time July rolls around, if the good play continues.

This isn’t to say however that the offense couldn’t use some improvement. While Davies, Wolff and Pontius are living up to their billing, Najar, Santino Quaranta and everyone in central midfield (Dax McCarty, Fred, Stephen King, Clyde Simms) are still a bit slow to support the offense and are lagging behind. If just one of those players can step up and help with goal scoring and more importantly the setting up opportunities for their chief goalscorers,  then United really could set their sights on their first playoff appearance since 2007.

McCarty in particular has struggled the most of the players that were expected to make major contributions this season for United. McCarty is a tweener player and isn’t exactly a full-time defensive midfielder nor a full-time attacking midfielder. He’s simply a central midfielder that is capable of playing both ways. For whatever reason, United hasn’t seen the best of McCarty yet.

United was hoping to add their DP player Branko Boskovic into the equation but just as he started producing his best play since coming over to United late last summer, he suffered a season-ending knee injury during their Open Cup play-in loss to the New England Revolution in late April. A Boskovic/McCarty midfield pairing might have been capable of supporting Davies, Wolff, Pontius and Najar. As it stands right now, the team is struggling to provide a spark from central midfield and must rely on it’s outside midfielders to spark the attack.

Pontius has been in fine form and Najar has seemed back to his old self after early season struggles which saw him on the bench for a number of matches. If Najar can get on track and start scoring a few goals, it could be very beneficial to Davies and Wolff who no doubt are starting to get marked closer and closer each match.

Santino Quaranta is currently out with concussion symptoms, but even he has been a bit of a disappointment this season with only 1 goal to show for his efforts. I’ve always maintained that what you see is what you get with Santino. A lot of potential that is unfulfilled. Others think that putting him up at forward will jump start his effectiveness but I just don’t see it. I think his best and most effective position for this team is at outside midfielder but unfortunately for him, those positions are occupied by better players at the moment.

Charlie Davies has clearly been the most pleasant surprise to date for this season. However, to me I still haven’t seen the pre-accident Davies and perhaps we never will. I would take 80% of what Davies was prior to the accident (and we essentially are seeing that) for the entire season and I think 1/3 of the way through the season he has exceeded anyone’s expectations. Now comes the moment where we need to see Davies take over matches and free up team mates to be just as dangerous. His late game breakaway against the Galaxy last weekend would have been such a great and definitive moment had he had a little more composure instead of rushing his attempt well wide of an open net. Davies is coming off an injury and we very well could blame that slip-up on that, but I don’t want him to take the easy way out and blame it on that.

Josh Wolff has been about what you would expect from him. In fact, he’s on pace for double digit goals which he did in 2009 with Kansas City, sorry Sporting Kansas City. Wolff will always bust his hump 100% in each match and has shown a pretty decent touch on the ball that has freed up team mates recently, most notably the game-winning opportunity in Los Angeles that Davies rushed past the net. I would continue to see Wolff help this team but to expect him to be a big goal scorer might be too much to expect from him. Steady as she goes with Josh and he’s helping out just fine at the moment.

Rookie Blake Brettschneider has been a pleasant surprise for Olsen’s troops this season and though he has yet to score for United on the season, his two-assist effort in Portland two weekends ago only shows what his potential contributions can be for this team. United has long played without a target forward in favor of moving the ball on the floor and combining for goals.

However, as mentioned earlier, this is a different league from back in the late 90’s when United teams could play that way almost effortlessly. Brettschneider is a banger and non-stop hustling machine that United has been thirsting for for years. No one is suggesting that he is the next Taylor Twellman or Brian Ching, but he does give United something they’ve been missing in recent years and that is a Route 1 option to bypass the midfield in order to set up quick strikes (the game-winning goal off of his head to Josh Wolff against Portland to wit). Brettschneider could be used as a tactical option depending on the types of teams that United face during the season. He’s not a starter per se just yet, but he’s doing alright for himself.

Help On the Way?

The front office has repeatedly said that they will look to the July transfer window to help bolster a thin and inexperienced defense as well as looking for some help in central midfield. With the injury to Boskovic, his spot on the roster can be replaced but his hefty DP salary is still on the books and that will most likely hamper any real impact signing this summer. Look for the team to make a few minor moves to improve the defense and hope to get fortunate with an offensive signing that could make an impact for very little price. Good luck with that..

Is the P-word a Little Too Soon to Bring Up?

It’s been a while since United have been in a playoff position and naturally, giddy thoughts tend to take over. However, one thing that has been constant this season is Olsen’s message of preaching patience with this squad. This is absolutely the way to go for United at the moment and you just hope that this young team can continue to get results and stay within arms reach of the playoffs when Autum comes rolling around.

One thing is for sure though, it’s nice to actually see a little bit of light at the end of the tunnel after having to sit through the past three seasons and last year in particular. Just 12 months ago there seemed no hope in sight for United for either the season or their future. Fast forward to today and it indeed does seem brighter.

At least on the field..

Kevin Hartman

United miss opportunities in 0-0 draw with FC Dallas

FC Dallas Keeper Kevin Hartman put his body on the line to deny DC United the valuable 3 points. Photo: Martin Fernandez.


D.C. United and FC Dallas played to a scoreless draw tonight at RFK Stadium in front of 11, 504 fans. Although the scoring chances were few and far between the teams, United easily had a case to say they were robbed of three crucial points in the middle of their 4 games in 17 day stretch.  A goal line clearance and a pair of saves from FC Dallas goalkeeper Kevin Hartman kept this match scoreless and denied United a chance to win back-to-back games for the first time since June 2009.

United should have opened the scoring in the 8th minute thanks mostly to a horrible clearance from FC Dallas converted forward Brek Shea. Playing at left back, Shea inexplicably headed a ball back towards his own goal right to a stunned Charlie Davies. Davies rough first touch allowed Hartman to spring off his goal line and smother Davies shot attempt. The rebound came to Andy Najar who touched it past the scrambling Hartman and fired towards the empty net only to have defender Ugo Ihemelu sweep the ball out of danger.

From that point forward until essentially the end of the match, it was a tight defensive affair with both teams limiting scoring opportunities. United goalkeeper Bill Hamid was called upon to only make two routine saves and the normally frantic defense in front of him played a much more composed match and were left to “defend throw-ins pretty much all night” as United head coach Ben Olsen commented after the match.

United nearly took all three points in the 89th minute but Hartman donned his Superman cape to save the day. Substitute Josh Wolff got deep down the right flank and sent a ball screaming across the penalty area to the far post where Fred was waiting. The Brazilian didn’t hesitate and sent a bullet towards the goal only to have Hartman somehow make the miraculous save keep the match at 0-0.

Next up for United is a rematch with the Colorado Rapids next Saturday evening at 7:30 pm at RFK Stadium. In week 3 of the season Colorado handed United a severe 4-1 beating in the cold and altitude of Dicks Sporting Goods Park.

 

United Notes

– Joseph Ngwenya and Steven King replaced Josh Wolff and Clyde Simms in the lineup this evening. “Wolffy is no spring chicken anymore. We need to find time to rest him” said Olsen after the match