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United sign Brazilian striker Rafael on-loan to Young Designated Player contract

D.C. United announced today the signing of Brazilan striker Rafael to a Young Designated Player contract. Rafeal, a 20-year-old forward, will be a season long loan signing from Bahia in Brazil and will most likely cost United between $150,00-$200,000 on their salary cap.

Rafael will join compatriots Marcelo Saragosa and Raphael Augusto (in negotiations to extend his loan from last season) in Washington, D.C. as the club begins preseason training on Thursday, January 17th.

Rafael is a 6’0 180lbs striker that will compete with incumbents Lionard Pajoy, Long Tan and Dwayne De Rosario for playing time. Hamdi Salihi, United’s full Designated Player signing from a season ago is currently not in favor after starting only 10 matches last season (6 goals) and is currently looking at moving back to Europe.

“If you had told me I would start with Pajoy this year, I would be okay with that. Adding this now, it is another very good option to compete. We’ll see. I am not going to put crazy demands on this guy. We’ve got firepower. We’ve scored goals [fourth most in the league last year]. … This guy physically fits in our league, but he is 20. He is our guy. We’re not actively looking for any other [strikers]. I like our team. I like who we are. We wanted to add one or two pieces to make us better, and I think we have done it,” head coach Ben Olsen said after the press conference.

United vs. Toronto FC: Late game-winner from Salihi further solidifies United’s postseason hopes

Let’s face it folks, it ain’t pretty.

Hamdi Salihi’s 88th minute goal of off a pair of dreadful mistakes from Toronto FC was all that was required in D.C. United’s 1-0 win this afternoon in Toronto, Canada. The win for United is their fourth in five matches since the season-ending injury to team captain Dwayne De Rosario and further solidifies their playoff position. United jumped, albeit briefly, into second place with the win but was pegged back down to third place with Chicago’s surprising 2-0 win at Red Bull this afternoon. Red Bull is now in fourth place trailing United by a point and Chicago by three points. All three teams have only two matches remaining in the season.

The game’s only goal came about in the 88th minute when former Maryland midfielder Jeremy Hall made a hash of a routine midfield clearance that set Maicon Santos down the right sideline. The Brazilian forged a bit of space before launching a left-footed shot on goal. United teammates Branko Boskovic and Chris Pontius were both furious with Santos as they were positioning themselves in front of goal but as the play continued, Kocic somehow managed to spill the admittedly easy save right into the path of Salihi who poked the ball into the empty net to send United to an improbable if not undeserved win.

With the win in their back pocket, United will now playing the role of cheerleader when Sporting Kansas City visits Columbus on Sunday afternoon. A loss by Columbus would virtually guarantee United their first playoff berth since 2007. United currently holds a six-point lead over the Crew and has a big lead in both tie-breaking procedures (49 goals scored to the Crew’s 39 and United is +9 on goal differential while the Crew are at 0) that would come up if United and Columbus were to end up tied on points at the end of the season.

However, United could make it all a moot point with a head-to-head win over Columbus in their next league match on October 20th. By that time, United will know exactly what they will need to advance to the postseason.

United gives up Cruz in trade with Philadelphia; Was this the right move?

On Thursday afternoon, D.C. United traded 22-year old midfielder Danny Cruz to the Philadelphia Union for 31-year old Colombian forward Lionard Pajoy and an International Player slot. That international slot was then used to add Pijoy to United’s roster as they had just traded away an international spot to Portland in the Mike Chabala trade from last week.

My immediate reaction to this news was one of stunned silence. Not quite the same reaction most United fans got when they heard the news just over 12 months ago when the Black-and-Red acquired Dwayne De Rosario, but a quizical reaction none the less. It jarred me because so much was made about the under the radar addition of Danny Cruz during the offseason and how he seems so much to be a Ben Olsen-esque type of player. Why would United give up on him so soon?

After taking the night to ponder the reasons behind this move I’ve come up with a few thoughts on the move and what it means going forward:

1) Was this a panic move in the face of the team dropping further down the Eastern Conference standings?

Yes and No. I agree, quite the fence sitter I am. Yes in the sense that bringing in another forward in an already jammed forward position seems a bit of overkill – especially a forward with a higher salary ($180,000 per season) and higher age as opposed to Cruz ($100,000) and his still 10-year career ahead of him.

No in the sense that of the forward options, only De Rosario right now is a viable option up top due. Sure, we can add Chris Pontius up top and no one would really argue the point as he has been the only productive player the past month or so, but having him on the wing adds a special dimension to United’s already predictable attack. Maicon Santos (toe injury) and Hamdi Salihi (virus) have not been options the past two weeks and the recently acquired Long Tan is raw at best. At least Pajoy has scored 5 goals and added a few assists for a rather young Philadelphia squad. But how does this help United? Well, it gives United another target forward of sorts as Santos has been the only one capable of playing that role. DeRo, Pontius and Salihi are much better suited running off of another forward. DeRo and Pontius are creators/finishers while Salihi is pretty much chisled in stone as a goal poacher.

2) What does this mean for Maicon Santos and Hamdi Salihi?

I think this probably hurts Santos more than Salihi. As mentioned earlier, Santos and Pajoy have similar games. The problem with Santos now is a toe injury and those don’t go away quickly. Also you have to add in the fact of Santos’ track record through his first 4 seasons here in MLS – it’s been the same wherever he’s gone. Score early, score often and then somehow fade into oblivion. Can you not say this is exactly what has happened so far with Santos? Granted, he’s done more with United in just over half a season than he has ever done in previous stops in Toronto, Dallas and Chivas USA, but is it too much to ask right now for him to recapture that magic from late March through May?

The move to get Pijoy tells me that the coaching staff would say yes, it’s too much to ask right now.

As for Salihi, he is a unique talent on this squad. He’s been great in the role of a second-half sub that poaches goals and puts games to rest. This is critically important for any team looking to get back to the playoffs. The problem has been when Salihi has been a starter. He just doesn’t seem to mesh well with his quicker teamates throughout the field. Salihi, to his credit, makes good runs but is often overlooked on these runs and it get’s magnified over a 90 minute stretch. There’s been a lot of speculation amongst United’s faithful fanbase that this move will signal the end of Salihi’s time at United. I don’t feel that is the case at all. That doesn’t mean there isn’t reason for concern.

The problem here for Salihi is two-fold. One, he has a gauranteed contract that runs through the 2013 season and Two, he’s getting paid DP money. I’m not sure about the rest of you, but I don’t think Olsen and Technical Director Dave Kasper had a second-half sub role in mind for their goalscoring find from Europe in the offseason.

These are the chances you take when you sign these Designated Players. You may have an inkling of how a player can fit into your squad or how quickly they can adjust to the admittedly physical and athletic prowess of MLS in general, but at the end of the day, it’s only game time which will be the ultimate decider in how that adjustment is made. Right now finacially Hamdi’s juice isn’t worth the squeeze, but I do maintain that he does play a vital role for this team by the time all is said and done this season. Goal poachers are not easy to come by in this league and I’m perfectly willing to have Hamdi play that second-half sub role for the remainder of the season. Next year however, he will have to find a way to integrate himself into the starting X1 and play at a level that will keep him there. Otherwise, it’s another DP playing part-time minutes and not contributing (sound familiar Branko?)

3) There goes some midfield depth

Yes, jettisoning Cruz hurts United’s depth in midfield for sure, but with the resurgence of Nick DeLeon over the past few games and the return of Andy Najar from the Olympics, Cruz wasn’t going to get much playing time anyway. Throw in the MLS Best X1 form from Pontius and the experience and steadiness of a Lewis Neal, then the decision was an easy one for the Braintrust to make.

The downside to this of course is that you let a 22-year old player go who embodied the 90 MPH in-your-face type of play that this team quite honestly has been missing for years. While it’s nice to play some pretty soccer (as United has done mostly at RFK this season but failed miserably to do on the road – that’s a column for another day), it’s just as nice to know that the other team fears playing against players like Danny Cruz. No doubt United will feel that wrath this upcoming Sunday night.

4) Is United better for making this trade? 

If this team truly was concerned with their future makeup, then moving Cruz was a bad move in terms of building the squad beyond this season. Giving up on youth that has plenty of playoff experience is never a good thing. Does Danny Cruz remind anyone of the skill that Najar possesses? No, but we knew that off the bat. We knew that Cruz was a worker bee on the wing that lacked the special flair of a Najar and his finishing ability. But sometimes it’s even more important to prevent other teams from scoring than it is to wow the locals with panache and an assortment of SportsCenter Top 10 type of moves.

If I had to make a choice, I would say Philadelphia in the long run will make out better on this deal because Cruz is younger and cheaper than Pajoy. Also, Cruz has a history with head coach John Hackworth with the U-17’s whereas Pajoy is coming into this team cold and is being expected to contribute right away. I don’t think Cruz is under the same type of pressure that Pajoy will be initially to contribute and that could go a long way towards deciding who makes out better in the long run.

The move for Pajoy seems a bit knee-jerk right now and may benefit United in the short term if he can score some goals right away. Long term though I don’t see this as a win for United. My guess is at the start of next season either Pajoy or Santos will be with this team, but not both of them. If it turns out that Pajoy was simply a 12-game rental, then it’s a landslide in Philadelphia’s favor.

 

All that being said, it certainly was an interesting move and one that will be highly debated over the remaining few months of the MLS

United vs Montreal: United back in control with 3-0 win over Impact

After back-to-back matches on the road in which D.C. United were thoroughly outplayed, the Black-and-Red enjoyed their brief visit back to RFK Stadium with a complete and professional 3-0 pasting of the expansion Montreal Impact (5-10-3  18 points). The win for United (10-5-3  33 points) gives them their sixth consecutive home win and eighth of the season overall. Both win totals are the highest from United since the 2008 season.

Chris Pontius’ goal (9th of the season) right before halftime and Robbie Russell’s first goal with United just five minutes into the second half were more than enough on a very sticky evening in front of a season high 18,302 fans on East Capitol Street.

United started the match a bit slowly trying to feel out their Canadian neighbors to the North but once the realization that Montreal’s injury-shortened squad were more interesting in putting bodies behind the ball the game started to open up for United.

Maicon Santos stinging drive from 28 yards away in the 20th minute was well saved by Montreal goalkeeper Evan Bush. Chris Pontius and Branko Boskovic almost finished off great individual moves a few minutes later but it was a harbinger of things to come for Montreal.

Pontius put United up 1-0 in the 45th minute with a beautiful individual effort that spun MLS debutant Calum Mallace into the ground. Pontius received a pass from Dwayne De Rosario on the left flank and after a pair of sharp cut-back moves Pontius blasted an angled left-footed drive to the far post for the lead.

After the break United essentially put the game away with another goal in the 50th minute provided by the left-foot of Branko Boskovic. Boskovic’ free kick was perfectly curled and met Robbie Russell in stride who flicked it past the motionless Bush for the 2-0 lead.

After this point, United played keep away from Montreal with the  occasional venture towards goal with the mindset of forcing Montreal to chase United during the stifling humid conditions. As the game wore on the hope started to drain from the visitors and in the 90th minute the deal was sealed when substitute Hamdi Salihi poked in a rebound goal (his fifth of the season) after a nice save from Bush on Nick DeLeon.

United will have another two-week break from league action and will return to play in Houston on July 15th to begin a two-game road trip that will conclude in Columbus on July 21st..

D.C. United's Hamdi Salihi celebrates his 24th minute go ahead goal against the Richmond Kickers in U.S. Open Cup play. Photo: Matt Mathai.

United defeats Kickers to advance in Open Cup

D.C. United defeated their nearest rival, the Richmond Kickers, 2-1 to advance to the next rounds of the U.S. Open Cup. United needed a extra time play to dismiss the Kickers from the 98 year old tournament with a strike from Marcelo Saragosa in the 107th minute of play.

Hamdi Salihi gave United the lead in the 24th minute of play after receiving a brilliant through ball from teammate Maicon Santos. Salihi collected the ball in the middle of the box and rounded the Richmond’s kicker to slot the ball in the back of the net.

The hosts managed to even it up shortly before the break when they were awarded a penalty kick. Kicker forward Christopher Kwame Agorsor was brought down in the box from behind by United’s Marcelo Saragosa. The ensuing kick was slotted past D.C. United’s Joe Willis by Zimbabwean International Stanley Nyazamba

Saragosa made up for his blunder late in extra time after the ball fell to his feet from a Branko Boskovic corner kick.

D.C. will now face the Philadelphia Union who defeated the  USL PRO side, the Rochester Raging Rhinos, by a score of 3-0 on Tuesday, June 5 at the Maryland SoccerPlex at 7:30pm.

United has won the U.S. Open Cup twice, once  in 1996 when they earned the coveted “double” and again in 2008. Last year, D.C. United beat the Philadelphia Union before falling to New England in Open Cup play.

Match Gallery: United extends TFC’s misery with 3-1 win

Dwayne De Rosario continued his torrid scoring pace against his former teams by bagging a brace to help lead D.C. United (7-4-3 24pts) to a 3-1 win tonight over still win less Toronto FC (0-9-0 0pts). De Rosario has scored five goals in TFC’s past two visits to RFK Stadium. The win for United extends their winning streak to two games in a row and four games in a row at RFK (seven games unbeaten at RFK since dropping the season opener in stoppage time to Sporting Kansas City). Entering the 2012 season United had gone 80 league matches without winning back-to-back games but now the Black-and-Red have done it twice within the past seven games. The win also helped United jump over Sporting Kansas City and into second place in the Eastern Conference.

United vs Toronto FC: United extends TFC’s misery with 3-1 win

Dwayne De Rosario continued his torrid scoring pace against his former teams by bagging a brace to help lead D.C. United (7-4-3  24pts) to a 3-1 win tonight over still win less Toronto FC (0-9-0  0pts). De Rosario has scored five goals in TFC’s past two visits to RFK Stadium. The win for United extends their winning streak to two games in a row and four games in a row at RFK (seven games unbeaten at RFK since dropping the season opener in stoppage time to Sporting Kansas City). Entering the 2012 season United had gone 80 league matches without winning back-to-back games but now the Black-and-Red have done it twice within the past seven games. The win also helped United jump over Sporting Kansas City and into second place in the Eastern Conference.

United wasted no time in jumping on the visitors inside the first minute. Branko Boskovic, who had served up numerous dangerous corner kicks during Wednesday night’s 2-0 win over Colorado, whipped in a free kick that De Rosario headed past former United goalkeeper Milos Kocic for the shock 1-0 lead. The assist is the first point for Boskovic in his MLS career that has spanned just over three seasons.

Just as TFC was starting to gain traction in the match, United struck again in the 43rd minute. Boskovic once again was the catalyst as he played a long ball straight through to Josh Wolff. Wolff then hit the overlapping run of Chris Korb along the right side of the box and his one-time pass through the penalty area hit De Rosario in stride as he forced it past Kocic for the 2-0 lead. De Rosario now has five goals on the season and three in two matches after a slow start to the season for MLS’ reigning MVP.

After the break TFC started to apply heavy pressure and made things nervy for United in the 71st minute when Danny Koevermans was left unmarked on the back post and volleyed into the goal under little pressure. It seemed both Brandon McDonald and Perry Kitchen lost sight of the huge Dutch forward and it threw Hamid off as it seemed to be a rather simple walk out and catch for United’s net minder.

In a season that is quickly building into something special, United responded almost immediately thanks to some individual brilliance from Andy Najar. In the 73rd minute Boskovic hit Najar with a touch pass right at the corner of the penalty area. Two quick juke moves later, Najar was centering a pass into the heart of the area where poacher supreme Hamdi Salihi forced the ball over Kocic and into the net for his fourth goal in five matches for United. Salihi nearly hit for his own double a few minutes later but couldn’t beat Kocic all alone after a great feed from De Rosario and United would run out the match 3-1 winners.

United will now wait a week for a visit from the New England Revolution next Saturday night at RFK Stadium. United defeated the Revolution in Foxborough earlier this season by a 2-1 score.

United Notes

  • For the third consecutive match, Ben Olsen was forced to burn a substitute due to another injury. Danny Cruz pulled his hamstring on a long sprint in the 21st minute and was replaced by Dejan Jakovic
  • Maicon Santos and Chris Pontius both were listed on the 18-man roster but did not play. Emiliano Dudar, Nick DeLeon and Robbie Russell were all held out with injuries. DeLeon and Dudar could make it back next weekend but with a two-week break coming up after the Revolution match, there will be no urgency to rush them back into the team
  • Lewis Neal was listed on the roster but was held out by Olsen due to a very slight hamstring twinge, thus Boskovic starting on the left flank tonight

United Cruise to 2-0 Win Over Rapids

Dwayne De Rosario and Hamdi Salihi scored on either side of halftime to help D.C. United to a comfortable 2-0 win over the Colorado Rapids at RFK Stadium in Washngton D.C. With the win United jumped into a tie for second place with Sporting Kansas City.

Dwayne De Rosario and Hamdi Salihi scored on either side of halftime to help D.C. United to a comfortable 2-0 win over the Colorado Rapids at RFK Stadium tonight.

United vs Colorado: United cruise to 2-0 win over Rapids

Dwayne De Rosario and Hamdi Salihi scored on either side of halftime to help D.C. United to a comfortable 2-0 win over the Colorado Rapids at RFK Stadium tonight. With the win United (6-4-3  21 pts) jumped into a tie for second place with idol Sporting Kansas City, just behind Eastern Conference leaders New York Red Bull (22 pts). United also equaled their win total at RFK from last season in only their seventh match of the season (4-1-2).

Head coach Ben Olsen made a number of changes to the lineup with the Black-and-Red in the midst of a three match in 8-day stretch (all at home). Lewis Neal, Hamdi Salihi and Branko Boskovic were brought into the side in favor of Danny Cruz, Maicon Santos and Chris Pontius and the replacements didn’t miss a beat as all three played a part in both United goals.

In the 24th minute, Neal sent a defense-splitting pass to De Rosario who walked in one-v-one with Colorado goalkeeper Matt Pickens and the  Canadian sniper slipped it past Pickens for his third goal of the season and the 1-0 lead. United continued to pour on the pressure and if not for the heroics in net by Pickens, United could have arguably been up by four or five goals by halftime. As it was, Pickens made sensational back-t0-back saves on De Ro from 25 yards and the point-blank header from Robbie Russell on the ensuing corner kick just seconds after United took the lead. Najar and Salihi were also stoned by Pickens as the teams went to the break with United leading 1-0.

After the break, Colorado went to 3-5-2 formation and starting pressing forward in search of the equalizer. However, it was United who would score the games remaining goal in fine fashion. Lewis Neal was sent down the left flank on a counter attack in the 60th minute and his pinpoint cross met the head of Boskovic only to see Pickens make another spectacular reaction save. Salihi trailed the play all the way and scooped up the parried shot and scored from the ground as he almost overran the initial shot from Boskovic. The goal was Salihi’s third of the season and was tough luck for his much maligned Designated Player team mate Boskovic. Boskovic certainly deserved better as he arguably played his best game in a United shirt in league play and is certainly worthy of a recall for this weekends match up with win less Toronto FC (0-8-0).

United will take on Toronto FC this Saturday night at 7:30pm at RFK Stadium. The match will be televised locally on Comcast Sportsnet.

United Notes

  • Dejan Jakovic made the subs bench for the first time since injuring his ankle in a 2-0 win over New England in April
  • Maicon Santos (resting), Nick DeLeon (hamstring) and Emiliano Dudar (hamstring) were held out of the 18-man squad
  • Robbie Russell left the match with a suspected groin injury, adding further woes to United’s defensive corp.