United remains alive in playoff chase with 1-0 win over Columbus

On a night when a loss would have eliminated D.C. United from the postseason playoff race, the Black and Red scratched and clawed their way to a 1-0 win over the Columbus Crew last night before an announced crowd of 16,274 fans at cold and rainy RFK Stadium. In the 17th minute Luciano Emilio took Boyzzz Khumalo’s through pass and touched the ball over the onrushing Columbus goalkeeper Will Hesmer and watched it trickle over the goal line before Danny O’Rourke cleared it out to no avail. United held on as the visitors had most of the play for the remainder of the evening and defended in numbers and often times looked very much disinterested in going for a second goal to finish off the match. United had a total of 3 shots for the entire 90 minutes with no shots at all coming in the second half.

Steve Cronin made his debut in goal for United and looked the part throughout the 90 minutes. He made a number of saves, his best of which was stopping a 25th minute screamer from Robbie Rogers. Cronin was called on to make a few more saves in the first half but rarely had anything to do in the second half aside from snagging a few wayward crosses or aggressively coming off his line and punching out potentially dangerous crosses. For all the possession the visitors had in the second half, they could only manage one shot themselves in conditions that started off poorly and got progressively worse as the game wore on. By games end the hardest rain of the day was falling but United somehow escaped and now in combination with other results across MLS, United is in a 4-way tie for the last playoff spot on 39 points. As it stands at the moment, United would be out of the playoffs due to the tie-breaking procedures of MLS. However, oddly enough, even though they are closer to elimination than making the playoffs, they can still actually gain the 2nd seed in the Eastern Conference. United would need first of all for Chicago to lose their last match at home to Chivas USA on Thursday night. Not exactly an impossible request seeing as Chicago has already lost four times at Toyota Park this season. United would then have to win their match in Kansas City and then would hope for a Toronto FC loss in New York (not likely) and a New England loss in Columbus (pretty likely). If that combination of games comes to fruition, United will incredibly be the #2 seed in the East and would play away to Chicago in the first round of the playoffs.

Needless to say, it will be an unbelievable weekend next week and United still has very much to play for. United however still has a midweek trip to Toluca in Mexico for their final CONCACAF Champions League match. An unlikely win at Toluca would advance United into the knockout round of the tournament beginning next February. If United loses or draws, they have to hope that they match at best Marathon’s result at winless San Juan Jabloteh.

United rolls past San Juan Jabloteh 5-1

Christian Gomez and Boyzzz Khumalo both scored twice to lead D.C. United to an emphatic 5-1 win over San Juan Jabloteh FC last night at RFK Stadium. The win for United is their third consecutive in the competition and puts the Black and Red at the cusp of qualifying to the knockout stages next winter. A Toluca win tonight over Marathon in Honduras would assure the feat for United. If Marathon manages a tie or a win, United would have to either get an unlikely result in Toluca or hope that winless Jabloteh can somehow manage to upset Marathon in Trinidad. United holds the all-important tie-breaker over Marathon should the teams remain tied after the sixth and final group match.

Christian Gomez scored in the 13th and 68th minutes to get United rolling. Khumalo added his first goal in the 41st minute and his second in stoppage time at the end of the match. Fred also scored for United in the 30th minute in United’s comfortable win. Head coach Tom Soehn once again used a mostly reserve squad last night as United had three players suspended for cards and a number of veterans on the bench. United didn’t need any of them as the youthful legs won the day out. Rodney Wallace and David Habarugira paced up and down the flanks all night long giving Jabloteh all kinds of problems that never got solved. And when that was not enough, substitutes Ty Shipalane and Danny Szetela continued to create havoc all over the field.

United now faces their toughest match of the season when they face Chivas USA at RFK Stadium on Saturday evening. A win by United gets them right back into the thick of the playoff chase and could go a long way towards securing a playoff position. Fellow playoff hopefuls New England Revolution did United a big favor by dropping their league match in Dallas last night 1-0 behind red-hot Jeff Cunningham’s league leading 16th goal of the season. United remains one point behind the Revolution who travel to Colorado to play the Rapids at altitude.

United Notes

  • Jaime Moreno (red), Dejan Jakovic and Avery John (both yellows) were all suspended last night.
  • Bryan Namoff is still out with concussion symptoms. His return is still unknown
  • Josh Wicks looked like a car wreck survivor last night with knee and shoulder braces and crutches

United defeats Rochester 2-1, will face expansion Seattle in Open Cup Final

D.C. United fought off a tough physical challenge from the USL-1  Rochester Raging Rhinos and advanced to their 4th U.S. Open Cup final via their 2-1 victory last night in front of 2,457 fans at the Maryland SoccerPlex. United will now play expansion Seattle Sounders FC at RFK Stadium on September 2nd. Seattle scored a late 89th minute goal and then got the game-winner in overtime.

Boyzzz Khumalo was the hero last night as his follow-up to a Chris Pontius breakaway in the 82nd minute was the difference in a physical match that saw both teams lose players to injury, including the game-winner Khumalo. Rochester lost midfielder Kwame Sarkodie to a devastating leg injury in the 72 minute on a fair but hard challange from United substitute John DeRaimondo. Likewise, Khumalo left the field in stoppage time when his own breakaway attempt ended in an awkward collision with Rhino’s goalkeeper Tim Melia. Khumalo left the field with an apparant shoulder injury. Sarkodie unfortunately had to be ambulanced off the premisis.

Jaime Moreno got the goal scoring started in the 41st minute when he converted a penalty kick after a Devon McTavish flick-on attempt was blocked in the box. The classy Bolivian easily beat Melia and now is tied with injured Rochester forward Jonny Menyongar for the all-time scoring lead in Open Cup play (10 goals).

With United in the lead, the visiting Rhinos had no choice but to abandon their 9-man behind the ball and Route 1 approach and try and open up the match. United had opportunities to extend their lead but it all came to naught when Rochester tied the match in the 68th minute. Tai Atieno, easily the most effective Rhino player on the night, was giving United and central defender Greg Janicki headaches all night long with his athletic and physical play. It paid off when he found himself all alone in the middle of the penalty area and pounced on a loose ball from an Andrew Gregor free kick. He easily blasted past Milos Kocic and the match was on.

However, the home side never really gave up another decent scoring opportunity and then the match winner came in the 82 minute thanks to a bad misplay from former Maryland defender Kenny Bertz. Bryan Namoff sent a seemingly harmless ball from the back towards the center spot. Bertz simply misjudged the ball as it took a big skip off the wet grass and Chris Pontius saw the mistake all the way and was off behind Bertz towards goal. Pontius ghosted in but shot directly at the committed Melia who made the initial save only to see it rebound right into the path of Khumalo who easily left-footed it into the empty net to get United to another Cup Final.


United Notes

– Danny Szetela was in attendance at the match but did not receive his International Transfer Certificate yet. It’s still up in the air whether or not he will be eligible to play this Saturday night in San Jose

– Dejan Jakovic, Luciano Emilio and Clyde Simms were left off the 18-man roster but were in attendance. Simms is scheduled to fly to Germany today to be consulted on his possible hernia surgery

– Bryan Namoff, Jaime Moreno and Fred were  the only first X1 players to start this match. Moreno came off in the 58th minute and Fred departed in the 68th minute. Namoff played the entire 90 minutes. Normal starters Josh Wicks, Marc Burch and Ben Olsen were listed, but did not play. Chris Pontius came on for Moreno in the second half

United hangs on for 2-1 win over Harrisburg to reach Open Cup semi-final round

For 50 minutes in last nights U.S. Open Cup quarterfinal matchup between D.C. United and the Harrisburg City Islanders, it really wasn’t much of a match. United got up top early thanks to early goals from Boyzzz Khumalo in the 8th minute via a beautiful bending ball from Devon McTavish and an Andrew Jacobsen header from a corner kick in the 18th minute. United was in complete control of the match.

That all changed in the 49th minute when City Islander midfielder and captain Mo Odour was sent off for a vicious elbow to the face of United midfielder John DiRaimando. At this point you would expect the MLS side to step on the necks of their USL2 foes and put them away. In a season that has seen United repeatedly allowing teams to stay in matches due to not finishing chances and mind-numbing defensive mistakes, it was yet another mistake that allowed Harrisburg the confidence they needed to get back into the match.

In the 64th minute, United defender Greg Janicki was a bit too casual in trying to thread a ball to a teamate and simply passed it right into the path of the City Islander’s most dangerous player on the evening Ty Shipalane. The crafty South African sped towards United’s goal and was tackled off the ball by United defender Avery John. However the loose ball found it’s way to the left foot of Harrisburg midfielder Nicki Paterson who easily beat Milos Kocic to half the deficit at 2-1.

Harrisburg kept appyling the pressure to the clearly rattled United defense and nearly drew the match level in the 73rd minute when substitute David Schofield managed his way past the United defense and rocketed a shot off the underside of the crossbar and sent shockwaves through the crowd of 2,137 at the Maryland SoccerPlex. United managed to dodge that bullet and even managed a few counterattack chances that should have put the game away for good but never materialised. United did manage to score twice in the second half but both goals were called back for sketchy offside calls.

United now will face the Rochester Raging Rhinos, a 2-1 winner over Wilmington last night, in the semi-final round on July 21st at the Maryland SoccerPlex.

Pontius scores twice to lead United to 5-3 U.S. Open Cup rout of New York

It has to be really tough to be a New York Red Bull supporter when it comes to their rivalry with D.C. United. Red Bull might win the occasional match but no team in the 14 years of their existence inflicts as much damage and pain to Red Bull as United does. Just in the past four weeks alone has seen United cruelly inflict a two-goal comeback in stoppage time to win the final regular season matchup at Giants Stadium between the two clubs. Fast-forward to tonight and United puts four goals behind Danny Cepero before the sun has even had a chance to set.

Such is life in the one-sided rivalry that has become United vs. Red Bull. Chris Pontius continued his extraordinary start to his professional career by scoring twice and also adding an assist in the 5-3 romp before 5,056 spectators at RFK Stadium tonight. Brazilian midfielder Fred chipped in with a goal and an assist and rookie Brandon Barklage scored his second goal in consecutive Open Cup matches for the Black and Red.

United jumped on the visitors from the start and were unfortunate not to be in the lead in the 5th minute when Pontius set up Fred for a seemingly easy tap-in in front of goal. However, a late defensive challenge from University of Maryland product Jeremy Hall pressured Fred into rushing his shot over the goal. United didn’t sulk over the missed opportunity and scored on a corner kick of all things in the 8th minute to take a 1-0 lead. Christian Gomez’ well driven ball found the noggin of Pontius who easily headed to the far post past Cepero.

United continued their assault on the Red Bull goal and took a 2-0 lead from a great through ball from Gomez to Boyzzz Khumalo who easily rounded Cepero and got the ball just over the goal line before Hall slammed it into his own net. Khumalo was one of many United players who routinely got behind the high line of New York’s defense in the first half. United was whistled for offside six times in the first half but Khumalo was the first to beat the trap.

Just as the fans were starting to settle back into their seats the Black and Red struck again in the 21st minute. Congolese forward Ange N’Silu worked hard to pressure and eventually steal the ball from Hall along the endline and fed a cross into the box that Cepero mishandled. The ball fumbled right into the path of Barklage who stung his volley through two Red Bull defenders and into the net for a 3-0 lead. United still wasn’t finished and capped off their most productive first 45 minutes of the season with a goal from Fred in the 26th minute. Pontius played a diagonal ball over the Red Bull defense and the left-sided midfielder trapped the ball in stride and sped towards goal unimpeded. His initial shot was well-saved from Cepero but the rebound bounced off the chest of Fred and he had the easiest of finishes into the open goal for a stunning 4-0 lead.

United looked to be heading into halftime with a very comfortable 4-0 lead but Red Bull started to show signs of life. Midfielder Khano Smith forced goalkeeper Josh Wicks into a fantastic save in the 43rd minute when the Bermudan wrong footed United defender Bryan Namoff and he sent a right-footed curler that was tipped just wide of the goal. Red Bull’s new found confidence did produce a goal just a minute later when United defender Greg Janicki misplayed a bouncing ball and allowed the 5’7″ 140lb Dane Richards to muscle him off the ball and break free alone on Wicks. Richards easily passed the ball into goal despite giving up 7 inches and 70 pounds to Janicki.

[slidepress gallery=’dcvnyrb5-20-09′]

Photos: Martin Fernandez

The second half started like the first half ended and it only took three minutes to make everyone at RFK very nervous. Substitute Jorge Rojas pounced on a failed clearance and his 18 yard left-footed shot through a thicket of players in the penalty area found it’s way past Wicks and United’s once dominating lead had been cut to 4-2. However, Rookie of the Year candidate Chris Pontius settled everyones nerves in the 51st minute with his second goal to settle the match for all intent and purposes. Fred once again skinned Jeremy Hall down the left flank and his pinpoint cross met the noggin of Pontius who easily beat Red Bull defender Kevin Goldthwaite. Danny Cepero inexplicably came off his line way too late to challenge and was left in no-mans land and the ball easily bounded across the goal line to give United a comfortable 5-2 lead.

Things got a bit uncomfortable for the home side in the 61st minute when Greg Janicki was whistled for a hand ball in the penalty area. Janicki, who didn’t do himself any favors tonight in trying to wrestle the starting central dender job from Dejan Jakovic, had his left arm extended from his side and the cross from Danleigh Borman hit off the left arm of the United defender. Referee Mark Kadlecik immediately pointed to the spot and Jorge Rojas easily beat Josh Wicks for the final goal in United’s 5-3 win.

United will now enter the U.S. Open Cup tournament proper in spite of being the defending champions. United does not know whom they will play in the next round. They most likely will be playing away from RFK as United has hosted their last 5 Open Cup matches at home venues. Next up for United is a rematch with Real Salt Lake this Saturday evening at RFK Stadium. Real Salt Lake has handed United their only loss of the season through 10 MLS games so far. Game time is at 7:30 and the match is being televised on Comcast SportsNet HD.

United Notes

  • United is on an eight-game unbeaten streak through all competitions. 6 games unbeaten in MLS and two straight U.S. Open Cup victories make up the impressive run.
  • Clyde Simms, Luciano Emilio, Louis Crayton and Dejan Jakovic were United starters that didn’t even make the 18-man roster for the match. Santino Quaranta and Jaime Moreno were unused subs. I’d say United has some pretty good depth