Jaime Moreno and Christian Gomez both converted on their set piece attempts to help launch D.C. United atop the Eastern Conference with a 2-1 win over the Chicago Fire last night at RFK Stadium in front of a season high 18,369 fans. Moreno scored on a controversial penalty decision in the 24th minute and Gomez beat Chicago goalkeeper Jon Busch to the near post on a beautiful free kick in the 41st minute to help seal the win. Oddly enough, it was the first time this season that United had scored twice in the first half of a match.
Both teams were without the services of their Designated Players as the home side had Luciano Emilio missing due to his red card last week and Cuahtehmoc Blanco not available after double duty with the Mexican National team this past week. However it did not seem to matter as both teams put on a display of fine soccer throughout the 90 minutes and was one of the best MLS games played this season. Both teams attacked each others goal with abandon and it was United’s goalkeeper that ultimately was the difference as Josh Wicks pulled off two stunning saves at the beginning of the second half to deservedly earn Man of the Match honors.
Wicks made a one-one save on Wilman Conde in the 47th minute after being set up by C.J. Brown headed pass. Wicks came out quickly to snuff out the Colombian’s attempt at the game-tying goal. Just two minutes later though, Wicks made the save of the season when he denied Brian McBride on a penalty kick save to his right. The play was set up on the second of two controversial penalties called by match official Baldolermo Toledo. United were awarded the first of the two in the 24th minute when Jon Busch clattered into Chris Pontius after Pontius’ goal bound shot trickled just wide. The almost seemingly predictabe make-up call was awarded when it appeared that Patrick Nyarko had his left shoulder slightly pulled by Dejan Jakovic as he was pouring in on goal. Wicks made the save on Nyarko and was stunned to realize that a penalty had been given just seconds later. It was later realized that the Jakovic infraction was the actual foul that was called.
After the penalty kick save, both teams traded dangerous opportunities for the rest of the match with United coming closest twice. In the 61st minute, Ange N’Silu, a 39th minute substitute for the injured Jaime Moreno, was sent in on goal from a lovely defense splitting pass from Pontius. Busch did well to save the toe-poked shot at goal and the ensuing rebound was hammered by Gomez from 30 yards only to see it thunder off the crossbar. As the game was coming to a close and with Chicago pouring forward and having subbed two of their defenders off for attackers, the inevitable counter attack almost sealed the match for United. Boyzzz Khumalo got hold of a ball on the right flank in the 89th minute and sent a picture perfect cross through the penalty area for the waiting Santino Quaranta who’s one-time volley somehow managed to miss the open goal. Never the less, United got the three points and shot to the top of the Eastern Conference where now a daunting stretch of games will see United play six of their next seven league matches on the road.
Up next for United is a visit to expansion Seattle Sounders FC on Wednesday night (ESPN2 @ 10:30 pm EST) and then a quick turnaround match at Colorado on Saturday night (Comcast SportsNet @ 9 pm EST). United does not return home until July 18th when they face the Rapids again.
- Talked to Ben Olsen who seemed upset that he wasn’t include on the 18 man roster. He said he will not be making the trip to Seattle but will be in Denver next Saturday
- United owner Will Chang nearly took my shoulder out of my socket when he high-fived me just seconds after Gomez’ free kick goal. Suffice it to say, you don’t see that many sports team owners showing that much passion. I missed a golden opportunity to cash in on a lawsuit.
- Thanks to a quirky MLS schedule, United will only have two home games at RFK in the next two months. Looking ahead through their schedule also reveals that United will finish the season with an unprecedented 5-game homestand before ending the season at Kansas City in October.
- Word has it that Dejan Jakovic will be called up to the Canadian National team for the Gold Cup. The tournament starts on July 3rd and it means that Jakovic may miss only the July 4th match in Columbus. Unless Canada gets to the Gold Cup final, Jakovic should be available for United’s home match vs. Colorado on July 18th.
- Rumor also has it that Santino Quaranta and Bryan Namoff are under serious consideration for the tournament as well.