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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.

 

 

Ben Olsen, Chad Ashton. Photo: Tony Quinn

United extend lead in the East courtesy of Doyle wonder goal

Bridgeview, Illinois, June 24, 2015 – Conor Doyle’s sure to be goal-of-the-week blast in the 73rd minute was all D.C. United needed in their 1-0 victory over the Chicago Fire tonight at Toyota Park. The win extend United’s lead in the Eastern Conference to ten points after the New England Revolution fell to Columbus in Columbus earlier in the evening. The shutout for United (10-5-4, 34 points) was the first for the Black-and-Red in 12 league games.

Head coach Ben Olsen once again made numerous changes to his lineup after Sunday’s 2-1 win at home against the Revolution in the face of four matches in ten days. Facundo Coria made his first start in MLS for United and got the first chance to score when his dipping bid from 22 yards was saved by Chicago goalkeeper Sean Johnson early in the first half. Johnson was called up again just a few minutes later when he parried away a goal-bound effort from Jairo Arietta, making his first start in two weeks.

On the other end of the field Bill Hamid had precious little to do aside from a few slight scares but was not called upon for any save opportunities. United clearly came out of the game with a purpose and even though the squad was almost completely rotated out, the formation change put forth by Olsen put the team in a different mindset and although they didn’t score in the first half, the effort put forth was different from what has been seen lately when United had fallen behind in 8 of their last 9 league matches.

Olsen employed a three-man midfield tucked in behind the front runner Arietta with Luis Silva and Coria playing side-by-side with Markus Halsti protecting underneath. Doyle and Miguel Aguilar manned the flanks and Luke Mishu got a start at his preferred left-back with Steve Birnbaum playing on the right with Bobby Boswell and Kofi Opare patrolling central defense.

The change worked as the home side had no clue how to penetrate United’s disciplined defense. As the game wore on United got even stronger in the back as the Fire were forced to try and dump the ball over the United defense to no avail. Either United cleaned up nicely or the Fire were caught offside as United played their trap to perfection all night long.

United’s hard work paid off in the 73rd minute when Conor Doyle came up a with a goal that will not be forgotten any time soon in D.C. Fabian Espindola floated a free kick from the left flank into the penalty area where Birnbaum kept the ball alive at the back post. The ball ricocheted around the area for a second before landing at the feet of Boswell who’s toe-poked effort rebounded back outside the penalty area and into the path of Doyle who unleashed a 25-yard blast that flashed past Sean Johnson before he could even raise his hands to attempt to deflect the shot.

The goal sucked all the air out of Toyota Park and United easily saw out the remainder of the match in true first-place fashion. With another match just three days away in Toronto, United is already playing with house money thanks to the three points collected this evening when a draw would have been more than satisfactory for Olsen. With key starters getting rested tonight, United will most likely be at full-strength heading into their match in Canada save for the nagging injuries for Chris Pontius and Sean Franklin.

United’s match against TFC will be shown live on Comcast SportsNet at 5pm on Saturday afternoon. TFC easily put away their rivals the Montreal Impact at BMO Field 3-1 earlier this evening and United will definitely have revenge on their minds as it was TFC who snapped United’s 20-game unbeaten run at RFK two weekends ago.

DC’s long road trip starts in Chicago

DC just snapped a two game losing streak with a home win over NE, but now head out for four straight on the road starting with the Fire who have lost three straight in MLS.

United is fresh off a rousing 2-1 come from behind win over hated rivals New England that saw DC leap to the top of MLS two points clear of the Cascadia combo of Seattle and Vancouver. But having played eleven of their first eighteen matches at home, United’s long summer of travel starts in Chicago where DC hasn’t won since 2009 when Bryan Namoff scored the winner two weeks before a concussion that would end his career, and where United has only won three times since Toyota Park opened in 2006. The Fire, on the other hand, are reeling through a difficult season that currently sees them at the bottom of the league having lost five of their last eight games including a 3-1 loss to DC a few week ago in RFK.

So while this is a top versus bottom clash that you would normally think favors the top team, given the situation, it may not play out that way. Starting with DC’s ridiculous schedule and travel along with still some key injuries and a suspension, United coach Ben Olsen will have some tough choices to make for his starting lineup in Chicago. DC will be without regulars Chris Pontius (calf), Sean Franklin (ankle) as well as Davy Arnaud (yellow card accumulation) and they are in the midst of a 6 games in 16 days stretch that started June 16 in Pittsburgh with a 120 minute win, then the NE win, now in Chicago, in Toronto on the weekend, at Philly for the Open Cup next mid-week and ending up July 3rd in Seattle.

The Fire have some key injuries to David Accam and Shaun Maloney, and a suspension to Matt Polster too; however their schedule is much easier to deal with having last weekend off and facing the least daunting Open Cup opponent in the next round which will be at home for them too. For comparison; since June 15 when Chicago beat Louisville City at home to advance in the Open Cup the day before DC, they had last weekend off and incredibly will have next weekend off as well before hosting the USL Charlotte Independence before traveling to Houston for their July 3rd match. DC has 6 games in 16 days, 5 of 6 on the road; the Fire, 4 games in 17 days 3 of them at home. Nice going MLS.

Still be that as it may, that’s the task set before DC and most pundits are fond of pointing out how United is the deepest team in the league so let’s take a stab at how Olsen sets up the team for Chicago which is arguably the more winnable game than either Toronto or Seattle, much less the bottom of the bench team that will be sent to Philly. Replacing Arnaud is easy as the Finn, Markus Halsti can slot in there easily enough and indeed will make quite a few folks happy to see him play some true first team minutes with the first team. Franklin too can be replaced easily with Chris Korb, but Pontius is a much tougher loss as DC is very thin on the wings. Rolfe obviously can play there, but he’s played a lot lately and might be better off the bench against his old team in his old stomping ground, but more on that later. Which pretty much leaves Conor Doyle or Miguel Aguilar as Olsen’s options as the winger opposite Nick DeLeon, and if DeLeon is rested, there are both your starters.

So, looking into my crystal ball, I think Olsen tries to get one more match out of Fabian Espindola before resting him and starts Jairo Arrieta along with him at forward, but will be getting Luis Silva into this match early. I think going with Espindola gives DC the best chance to score early and maybe make the last place team in the league hang their heads, then he can replace him with Silva to hopefully hang on to the win. Silva has been getting only garbage time lately and not playing well at all, so I doubt he starts, but he will have to take a big chunk of minutes in the next couple weeks so he has to start getting bigger minutes now to build up to more down the road.

In midfield, I suspect Doyle and Aguilar will start both to rest DeLeon and because Chicago’s wing play won’t be as dynamic as last time with Accam and Maloney out which likely moves Harry Shipp inside to Maloney’s playmaking position. I think it very likely Perry Kitchen plays alongside Halsti in midfield, but Perry has been playing quite a bit lately too, so part of me thinks Olsen might pair Halsti with Jared Jeffrey for a couple reasons. One being that it’s likely Jeffrey and Halsi play quite a bit together in practice and they did start together in Portland, also Jeffrey has been pretty poor in his limited time, but that was with a complete bottom of the roster team in Portland. Might be a good idea to see what he can do with a lot more regulars around him against a team that doesn’t have a good midfield in general, as well as give Kitchen some rest. Which only leaves the backline which should be pretty stable and interchangeable weathering this glut of games and injuries as they were last time. Taylor Kemp, Steve Birnbaum (or Kofi Opare), Bobby Boswell and Chris Korb will be fine until Franklin gets back, especially with reigning goalkeeper of the year Bill Hamid seemingly back to health and starting.

The Fire’s Frank Yallop will have a much easier time putting his lineup together without future games to worry about. Quincy Amarikwa started against DC at forward in RFK, but hasn’t played much since and still hasn’t scored in MLS although he did get the game winner in the 1-0 Open Cup win for the Fire. Still, Guly Do Prado or more likely Kennedy Igboananike have displaced him at forward. But whether Yallop tinkers with his tactics will be interesting. They have played mostly a 4-2-3-1 as most MLS teams are doing this year, but last time out he played a straight up 4-4-2 against NE that lost 2-0, but then again looked a lot more solid than that score would indicate, especially as it took two world class goals to give NE the win, Diego Fagundez’ cracking goal of the week side volley and a ridiculous reaction header from Charlie Davies on a shot heading out for a throw-in. The 4-4-2 would actually line up better against DC but we’ll see.

Anyway, the last time the Fire had a good run of results two draws and a win about a month ago, they played the 4-2-3-1 with Igboananike up top. With Maloney out, Shipp will almost certainly move underneath him which isn’t good for DC as Maloney has been terrible and Shipp orchestrated the Fire’s lone goal in the 3-1 loss to DC a few weeks ago. Also with Accam out, Yallop will likely go with Jason Johnson as the speed element on that wing, or maybe he goes safe and plays Lovel Palmer to shut down DC, but I don’t think so unless DC starts Rolfe. The rest of midfield will be Michael Stephens on the right, Razvan Cocis and Matt Watson for the suspended Polster holding in front of the backline. The backline should be Joevin Jones, Adailton, Jeff Larentowicz, and Eric Gehrig going left to right, although maybe Palmer plays the right sending Gehrig into the middle and sitting Adailton, he of the two own goals in one game. Could be either Jon Busch or Sean Johnson in the nets although if Yallop has been paying attention to how much of a United killer Busch has been over the years, that would be a no brainer. Johnson has been the starter, but was benched and may well have played his way back in there, so we’ll see.

So, looking at the tactics and matchups, DC has some legitimate advantages as long as Espindola starts and will be even more favored if Rolfe does too. Chicago plays a lot like NE does only with less success and less talent overall obviously. They have lacked a finisher which they hope Igboananike (or Do Prado) will become but they can counter with speed, especially through Shipp and with Johnson slashing in behind Korb or Kemp Chicago can be trouble, not as much trouble as with Accam, but trouble nonetheless. Shipp and Larentowicz hits some wicked deadballs too, but that’s about it. Chicago might get one, but not more than that if DC plays their normal tight road game. It should be noted Chicago’s Mike Magee should be back in the 18, but with such a long layoff, hopefully he doesn’t find his form until DC is long gone.

Offensively, Aguilar or DeLeon is feisty enough to give fits to Jones, Doyle likely won’t do much against Gehrig or Palmer, but he’ll help keep Stephens from causing too much trouble. However, if Rolfe starts, DC owns this side. Interestingly enough, Rolfe has never played against the Fire as he missed both matches last year as well as the first match this year. However, as much as I’d love him to start, it’s probably smarter to bring him off the bench in this one. Still, the real advantage offensively is Espy and Arrieta (and later Silva or maybe DeLeon) going against Larentowicz and Gehrig or Adailton. DC’s forwards are easily crafty and quick enough to torture Chicago’s central defense, especially with Halsti in there as he can hit some dagger balls behind them which Espy and Arrieta will eat up. So, assuming the soccer gods sit this one out, while DC will give up one goal, they should score two and get their first win in Chicago in six years.

Bold statement when you consider the history. As mentioned DC hasn’t won in Toyota Park since 2009 and is a pretty woeful 6-10-8 all time in Chicago, but lost in all that is DC is 3-3-6 since Toyota Park was built and has 4 draws in their last 6 there. Still, DC has also been pretty awful on the road of late at 2-4-1 with only 4 goals scored and having given up 7 goals in those 7 games, plus being shut out in 3 of their last 4 on the road. However, the Fire has been equally unimpressive at home having lost 2 of their last 3 and are only 4-3-0 overall having given up 5 goals in their last 3 at home. The Fire are also 1-5-2 in their last 8 games having been outscored 15-11 in those matches so they are averaging almost 2 goals a game given up in the last two months.

So there you have it, DC should manage at least a draw given everything, but might well pull out another somewhat surprising win if they play their cards right. DC is already 7 points up on the NE in the East and could put the East on ice for almost a month with a win given the dearth of games coming up due to the Gold Cup. Always a bad idea to look ahead, but getting something in this one takes a lot of pressure off the more difficult games coming up in Toronto and Seattle.

Conor Doyle celebrates his goal against the visiting fire with DC United mid fielder Fabian Espindola

Espindola return sparks United to 3-1 win over Chicago

Washington, D.C., June 4 – Jairo Arreita bagged two goals and Fabian Espindola dished out two assists as D.C. United stormed back from a 1-0 halftime deficit to race past the Chicago Fire in last night’s 3-1 victory at RFK Stadium. Conor Doyle added his first goal of the season to complete United’s fourth win of the season after giving up the opening goal. United (8-3-4, 28 points) only won one match last season after giving up the first goal and have extended their lead in the Eastern Conference to seven points over the New England Revolution.

For what seems to be an alarming trend recently, United started out slowly once again and were in trouble in the 26th minute when Steve Birnbaum inexplicably reached out and handled a ball in the penalty area as United were under pressure. Birnbaum got the start at an unfamiliar left-back as Taylor Kemp and Chris Korb were both unavailable due to injury. Bill Hamid and Chris Pontius also did not suit up for United who were already missing Chris Rolfe due to a suspension.

Jeff Larentowicz stepped up to take the penalty but Andrew Dykstra made an incredible diving save to his right to keep out the goal-bound shot. Bobby Boswell and Markus Halsti both snapped to attention and swept the ball out of play before any Fire player could pounce on the rebound. United thought they were off the hook but just 60 seconds later the Fire would take the lead when Quincy Amarikwa’s pass from the left flank found speedy striker David Accam and the Ghanaian’s one-touch redirect flashed past Dykstra for a 1-0 lead.

United once again failed to create much of anything through the first half and most of it had to do with yet another batch of changes to the lineup as United are at the tail end of a 5-game in 15-day stretch of play. Head coach Ben Olsen though had a few tricks up his sleeve and the biggest and best one was named Fabian Espindola who was making his return back to the team after sitting out a month with a deep bruise to his knee.

Espindola came on after the break the tone of the match changed completely as United seemed more focused and picked up their pace of play. That urgency paid off in the 61st minute when Espindola’s perfectly whipped in cross from a corner kick met the head of Arrieta who snapped a header inside the far post to level match at 1-1. Just eight minutes later United would take the lead for good with a bit a good fortune. Arrieta was attempting a give-and-go with Nick DeLeon deep in the Fire’s penalty area when defender Lovel Palmer seemed to have thwarted the dangerous combination. However, the Jamiacan’s sliding challenge redirected the ball right back to Arrieta who’s one-time right footed blast easily beat Fire goalkeeper Jon Busch. The goal was the fifth of the season for Arrieta who has taken the team lead over Chris Rolfe in scoring.

Not to be undone, Espindola performed one more piece of magic to wrap up the night for United. In the 75th minute Espindola found himself deep in Fire territory hugging the left sideline. The crafty Argentine spotted a far post run from Conor Doyle and unleashed a worm-burner pass that hit Doyle just as he flashed in front of his defensive challenger and right in front of goal. Busch could only get a slight touch on the fall before the shot hit the roof of the net.

With United firmly in control, they saw out the remainder of the match with little difficulty as United cruised to back-to-back wins for the first time since beating Vancouver and Columbus a month ago.

Next up for United is a home match against Toronto FC this Saturday night at 7pm. This will be the end of United’s most grueling stretch of games of the season to date. United will most likely have most of their squad available as the injuries that forced Olsen’s changes tonight were a mixture of precaution and knowledge of another Eastern Conference game just three days away.

United capture Eastern Conference title with 2-1 win over Chicago

Needing only one point to take home an improbable worst-to-first Eastern Conference title run, D.C. United did what they have been doing all season long – producing wins – this one of course being the most important as the Black-and-Red defeated the Chicago Fire 2-1 tonight at chilly RFK Stadium.

One season after producing the single-worst record in MLS history, United turned the tables completely around and now will be the top seed in the Eastern Conference when the playoffs begin the weekend of November 1st. In a season that will not be forgotten anytime soon, this time for all the right reasons, perhaps United’s most impressive feat was to set the league-record with a turnaround of 42 points from last season to this year (United had 16 points all of 2013 and currently stand at 58 points with one match remaining). In addition to the amazing turnaround, United also has qualified for the 2015-2016 CONCACAF Champions League group stages which begin late next summer. United has already advanced to the knockout stage of the 2014-2015 competition which will begin in February of next year.

Chris Pontius’ first goal of the season and Eddie Johnson’s game-winner in the second half powered United to a frantic victory over the Fire. Chicago, long out of the playoff chase, fell behind by two goals but had the intestinal fortitude to not give up and gave United quite a battle and when Harrison Shipp scored between Bill Hamid’s legs in the 67th minute to make things interesting.

Hamid was called on to make another couple of saves and even got some good fortune when a redirected shot from Shipp bounced off the goalpost and into the grateful arms of Hamid just a few minutes after the visitors had cut the deficit in half.

United, as they have done most of the season, withstood the challenge and now have won the Eastern Conference title for the first time since the 2007 season.

From the jump both teams played a bit cautious and the match began to beg for a singular moment to jump start the action. That moment came in the 28th minute when Quincy Amerikwa beat United’s defense to the end line and rolled a pass to the penalty spot where former Liverpool striker Florent Sinama-Pongolle was waiting at the penalty spot. His one-time shot was somehow saved by a Hamid leg kick, a type of save that is now becoming routine in Hamid’s play.

That save sparked the match to life and United took the lead just three minutes later. Nick DeLeon took down a ball in midfield and played Eddie Johnson on his overlapping run down the right sideline. The much-maligned striker didn’t hesitate and hit a one-time curling cross that found Pontius on the back post in stride and the UCSB product placed his header perfectly between goalkeeper Kyle Reynish and the near post for his first league goal since September of last year.

After the break United would double their lead thanks to lapse in concentration from the Fire defense. Patrick Ianni’s attempted back pass in the 57th minuted caught the back heel of fellow midfielder Chris Ritter and the deflected ball fell right into the path of Johnson. Johnson, starting for United’s injured leading scorer Luis Silva, pounced on the mistake and only had defender Jeff Larentowicz between him and the goal. Johnson’s pace was no match for Larentowicz as he pushed the ball to his right and slipped a shot easily past Reynish for the 2-0 lead.

United now turn their attention towards their final CONCACAF Champions League Group 4 match when they travel to Panama to take on Tauro FC on Tuesday night. With qualification already assured, head coach Ben Olsen already has stated that he plans to take his reserves on the road to give a rest to his starters ahead of their final league match next Saturday in Montreal.

United still has an outside chance of taking over MLS #2 seed overall heading into the playoffs. United will need both a victory in Montreal coupled with either Los Angeles or Seattle sweeping their two-game head-to-head series that begins tomorrow night in Los Angeles. Additionally, if the Galaxy and Seattle draw tomorrow and Seattle wins their return leg, United will tie the Galaxy on 61 points (provided they win in Montreal) but win the first MLS tie-breaker in total wins. Los Angeles and United are currently tied with 17 wins apiece.

Gaining the #2 overall seed is important because whichever of the two teams in the West loses in the playoffs and United makes it to MLS Cup, then MLS Cup will be right here at RFK Stadium on November 7th.

 

United rallies from early deficit to 3-3 draw in Chicago

For the first half hour of tonight’s match between D.C. United and the Chicago Fire at Toyota Park in Bridgeview, Illinois, it wasn’t looking too good for road-weary United.

Down 2-0 to a desperate squad on a terribly re-sodded pitch, you would have given the Black-and-Red the proverbial pass considering the team was wrapping up an 8 matches out of 11 stretch on the road, including a midweek match in Jamaica.

This team however are making believers of all United fans as they rallied to a 3-3 draw and pushed their precious lead at the top of the Eastern Conference standings to three points over idle Sporting Kansas City. With United already clinching the season series over SKC (with a head-to-head match still remaining in October at RFK), the three point cushion keeps them in first place even through next weekend when they welcome the Philadelphia Union to town after their lengthy road sojourn.

Luis Silva led the comeback with a pair of goals including a dead-cinch lock for Goal of the Week with a wicked free kick stunner in the 54th minute to level the match after United had fallen behind so early. Silva’s penalty kick conversion in the 39th minute had turned around a performance that was less then stellar until that goal. Silva leads United now with 10 goals on the season, all in the last 15 matches United has played.

United had designs on stealing all three points when Perry Kitchen finished off a bizarre play in the 58th minute to give United a 3-2 lead. Taylor Kemp’s free kick was flicked on in the area by Bobby Boswell and found Kitchen in a good spot with Chicago goalkeeper Sean Johnson rushing out to stop him. Kitchen got a touch to the ball to poke it past Johnson as it rolled towards the empty net. Fire defender Gonzalo Segares made a lunging attempt to clear it just as it crossed over the line. Boswell was on hand however to slam the clearance into the net to remove all doubt on the play. Once the league reviews the play, no doubt Kitchen will be rewarded with his 5th goal of the season.

However, as has been the case on occasion this season, United gave up the equalizer in the 78th minute when Matt Watson’s shot from 23 yards took a fatal deflection off of defender Steve Birnbaum and flew past the helpless Bill Hamid in goal.

All of the drama wouldn’t have been necessary had United not slept-walked through the games initial start. Chicago took the lead in the 16th minute when Quincy Amerikwa took advantage of a failed clearance from Taylor Kemp and curled a left-footed shot past Hamid for the 1-0 lead. In the 32nd minute the Fire doubled their advantage when Kitchen was judged to have tripped Amerikwa in the box. Jeff Larentowicz stepped up and blasted his shot past Hamid to give the home side the 2-0 lead.

With Chicago seemingly in control of the match, United received the lifeline they were looking for when Birnbaum was shoved over in the penalty area in the 38th minute by Fire defender Baky Soumare. Silva stepped up and strangely seemed to shoot right at Johnson as he dove to his right but the burly goalkeeper couldn’t keep the full force of the shot out and United’s comeback had it’s start.

With United at the tail end of their most devastating crunch of matches all season (7 out of 9 league matches on the road in addition to the midweek trip to face Waterhouse FC in Jamaica), Ben Olsen’s squad was missing their top player in Fabian Espindola to a red card controversially given ten days ago in a last-second 1-0 loss in New York as well as Eddie Johnson for a third consecutive league match with concussion symptoms although he did return to training late in the week.

This gave young Michael Seaton his first start in MLS up top with Silva and it also saw the MLS debut of Ghanaian International Samuel Inkoom on the right side of the midfield. Seaton was a non-factor until the last minute of stoppage time in the first half when he got a flick to well struck free kick from Silva that forced a diving fumbling save from Johnson to keep Chicago ahead 2-1 at the break.

After the break Olsen subbed in both Chris Pontius and Chris Korb into the lineup and brought off the two debutants and it paid immediate dividends on both ends of the field. Pontius’ pass set up Silva with a chance in the area but his shot was well defended by Fire defender Lovel Palmer who was throwing his body all over the field.

Korb helped to stabilize what had been a shaky first half performance from United’s usually staunch defense. Even though United were missing quite a few offensive weapons, their defense for the most part had been picking the team up through the past two league matches which saw United shutout in both of those matches in Vancouver and New York.

With the big road point, United now will play three of their remaining five matches at the friendly confines of RFK Stadium to close out the season. Before that however is a tricky midweek home match against Tauro FC in the CONCACAF Champions League on Wednesday night. All United needs is a draw against the winless side to advance to the knockout stages of the competition beginning next February. Conventional wisdom will have Olsen playing mostly a reserve side to help rest for their big match next Saturday afternoon when the welcome the Union to town. That match will be live on the NBCSports Network starting at 3:30 pm EST.

 

Episode 139 – Mean Ol’ Bitch

Join the guys as they talk about recent DC United news, including development in the DC primaries. The boys also talk about DC’s recent two games, including the draw against the Fire and the win against the Revolution. Finally the guys talk about the US Men’s national team and the upcoming friendlies leading up to the World Cup.

Snap Shots – DC v Fire

DC United’s valiant come from behind effort was all for naught as the Fire’s Quincy Amerikwa’s redirect from the six-yard box in the 82nd minute leveled the match at 2-2 and spoiled the party for the announced crowd of 9,445 fans, the smallest league crowd at RFK in over five years.

DC United have now gone 15 matches without a win over the course of two seasons. United will next take aim at the New England Revolution who come to town next Saturday night at 7pm.

Photos: Martin Fernandez.

United drops second straight in Bradenton with 2-0 loss to Chicago

Chicago Fire Homegrown player Harry Shipp was the difference tonight as his goal and assist powered the Chicago Fire to an easy 2-0 over D.C. United at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida

Shipp, who just finished his sophomore year at Notre Dame, scored three minutes into the second half as Chicago’s reserve players easily controlled United’s reserves. Trialist Grant Ward (Tottenham Spurs) scored from a very nice assist from Shipp in the 80th minute to seal the victory.

Both squads came out with essentially their starting lineups, minus a few key players for each team. United had the better opportunities early in the half as Eddie Johnson squandered a two-on-one break with Nick DeLeon and in the 23rd minute Fabian Espindola sent Davy Arnaud in all alone on Fire goalkeeper Sean Johnson but his angled volley flew harmlessly wide. United goalkeeper Bill Hamid was called upon to make two very nice saves from Anangano and Dilly Duka to keep the game scoreless into halftime.

After the break both teams switched out their entire lineups with the exception of Taylor Kemp who came on for United in the 32nd minute for Cristian Fernandez who was kept to a 30-minute timetable from the coaching staff. Fernandez had only been with the team since early Friday morning and his subsequent signing with the team yesterday afternoon.

Chicago, who carried the balance of play in the first half, were even more in control in the second. Just three minutes into the half Benji Joya, signed via the waiver draft lottery earlier this week, stung a shot off the post and Shipp was the quickest to react just beating Steve Birnbaum to the ball and poking the ball into the goal. United tried to get themselves back into the match but the relative unfamiliarity of the reserve group showed in more ways than one as they simply could not put any possession together and they barely crossed midfield with the ball without lumping the ball from the back line.

United’s best chance to equalize came midway through the second half on one of United’s few sustained sequences. Good work down the right flank by Christiano Francois created an opening and his pass to the penalty spot was right on the foot of Luis Silva but Chicago defender Patrick Ianni intervened at the critical moment and slid Silva’s attempt out of danger. Aside from a wayward shot from Kyle Porter about ten minutes later, that was the result of United’s efforts for the night in the offense third of the field.

Chicago wrapped the match up in the 80th minute when Shipp outclassed Birnbaum down the left flank and his pass through traffic in the penalty area met Ward in stride who easily stroked it into the net for the final nail in United’s coffin.

United will remain in Bradenton for another week and will play the Fire again on Wednesday morning at 10am in a match that will not be streamed live by the club. Perhaps Ben Olsen can draw a better performance from his club as so far through two preseason matches, there doesn’t seem to be much difference from United’s 3-win campaign from last year. Early days for sure, but continued impotence is not what Olsen was looking for on this trip.