Nick De Leon

United and Sounders battle to a 0-0 draw

D.C. United and the Seattle Sounders battled to a hard-fought 0-0 draw tonight at RFK Stadium in front of 15, 651 fans. United’s only real chance at goal came in the 23rd minute thanks to some great work from in-form Nick DeLeon. Photo: Martin Fernandez.

D.C. United and the Seattle Sounders battled to a hard-fought 0-0 draw tonight at RFK Stadium in front of 15, 651 fans. United now has a three game unbeaten streak after dropping the first two matches to start the season. Joe Willis recorded his second shutout of the season and saved the match with a diving save of an Osvaldo Alonzo  blast in stoppage time only to see the rebound from former United player Marc Burch rocket off the crossbar to everyone’s relief at RFK, including head coach Ben Olsen who jokingly muttered, “That son of a bitch”, after the match when he realized it was the much scrutinized left-back who nearly laid a second devastating injury-time loss on United this season (Sporting Kansas City scored in stoppage time of the season opener).

United’s defense, much maligned from last season, came out with it’s third consecutive solid effort limiting the visitors to only two shots on goal through the rough and tumble match. Both sides were very physical, especially in the opening forty-five minutes with United being very fortunate not to have forward Maicon Santos sent off. After a deserved yellow card tackle in the 12th minute, Santos was nearly sent off late in the first half if not for the level-headed thinking of referee Edwin Jurasevic. Santos had made a seemingly legal tackle on Sounder forward Fredy Montero but was whistled for the foul. The Brazilian grabbed the ball and slammed it down right in front of the referee who, to his credit, realized the situation and probably didn’t want to send a player off in this game due to an fleeting act of petulance.

United’s only real chance at goal came in the 23rd minute thanks to some great work from in-form Nick DeLeon. The winger from Louisville blazed past Seattle defender Zach Scott and sent in a low hard cross that met the sliding left foot of Hamdi Salihi. The Albanian’s shot slammed off the convergence of the near side crossbar and post much to the relief of the Sounders goalkeeper Michael Gspurning who would have had no time to even get his hands up had the shot been on target.

After the break, the Black-and-Red picked up the tempo and had the Western visitors on their heels for most of the second half. United came close on several occasions, the best being rookie Nick DeLeon’s 22-yard blast in the 68th minute forcing an awkward punch-out save from Gspurning.  Second-half substitute Chris Pontius should have given United the lead just five minutes later when sent in by Santos on a lovely back heel pass. Pontius glided into the box and his shot from the left side of the goal area skittered harmlessly through the goal mouth and wide of the far post. United’s last effort to grab a game-winner came from a Dwayne De Rosario free kick in the 88th minute but the effort was just over the bar.

That last opportunity set up a rare chance by the Sounders in the 3rd minute of stoppage time that would have stolen three points had it come to fruition. Alonso got a hold of a ball out in front of the penalty area and sidestepped a United defender before unleashing a wicked 24-yard shot headed for the far side netting. Joe Willis extended fully to his right and parried the shot  into the path of onrushing Seattle defender Marc Burch. Burch’s reaction header rocketed off the crossbar and was eventually cleared by the United defense and nearly gave Burch a storybook return to the Nation’s Capitol.  Burch subbed into the match in the last five minutes and was met with a full-throated booing from the RFK faithful upon his entrance into the match. It was Burch during the course of the week who had a lot to say about why he was no longer with United and it would have been very cruel for United had that goal gone in.

United Notes

  • Brandon McDonald was suspended for this match during the week after a weekly video evidence hearing brought about his one-game ban for his tackle on Blas Perez last week versus FC Dallas
  • Andy Najar did not make the 18-man roster due to his midweek illness and him playing 5 matches in 11 days with the Honduran U-23 team that did qualify for the London Olympics later this summer
  • While United got their second shutout of the season, they have failed to score in 3 of the 5 matches played so far this season. It could be argued that United has had the toughest 5-game stretch to open the season in MLS

United defense breaks down, again.. Houston rolls to easy 4-1 win

Houston rookie forward Will Bruin scored the first three goals for the Dynamo tonight and Cam Weaver capped off an embarrassing defensive performance by D.C. United with the last goal in their 4-1 thrashing of the Black-and-Red. United has now lost two MLS matches in a row by a combined 8-1 scoreline and if you add Wednesday night’s dismal 3-2 loss to the New England Revolution in a U.S. Open Cup play-in match, United has lost three straight games and clearly lost their way defensively.

No matter what combination of players that head coach Ben Olsen trots out onto the pitch, they seem to turn their duties into a comedy of errors. Poor positioning, critical giveaways and a shocking lack of concentration has turned a once promising season into a nightmare for United. United has now allowed 16 goals in their 7 league matches including 10 goals allowed in their 4 road matches to date (1 win and 3 losses). Tonight’s Keystone Cops routine began in the 4th minute when Dax McCarty’s unnecessary turnover spurred a quick Houston counter. Brad Davis slotted a pass to Will Bruin who slipped the ball past Bill Hamid to the near post for a surprise 1-0 lead.

United battled back and drew the match level in the 39th minute when Marc Burch’s free kick went under the Houston wall and past Tally Hall. United had done precious little up to that point with only a Chris Pontius header bothering Hall and questionable non-call on what looked to be a clear foul in the box on Pontius in the 31st minute. However, United’s joy in tying the match only lasted two minutes when Bruin struck again. Brad Davis got in behind right back Zed Jayner and hit one of his textbook perfect crosses to the back post where United rookie defender Perry Kitchen seemed to lose his way as the burly Ohio State forward raced inside of the confused Kitchen and hammered home a header from 6 yards to give the Dynamo a 2-1 lead.

After halftime United actually took the game to the Dynamo but once again poor defending doomed them. A free kick was awarded to the Dynamo and the left-footed out swinger from Davis met the forehead of Bruin inside the 6 yard box again and Hamid had no chance and Bruin had a natural hat trick. Bruin, who was being eyeballed buy United before the draft, certainly made United regret not picking him over the much more vaunted Perry Kitchen. While Kitchen will no doubt become a much better player in time, Bruin won this match up with relative ease.

United’s evening was finally extinguished with a piece of laughable defending. In perhaps the single worst piece of defending in United’s 15 years of playing in MLS, a throw-in from past the midfield stripe caught United’s back line asleep and Cam Weaver strode in on goal all alone and roofed a shot past a clearly flabbergasted Bill Hamid for the final scoreline of 4-1.

Confidence is very low with the Black-and-Red at the moment but they do have a 3-game home stand to try and right the ship. Up next for United is a Wednesday night match against the Seattle Sounders, who by the way have never lost in 3 meetings at RFK.

Isn’t this season turning out well?

United’s Open Cup run ends with 2-1 loss in extra time to the Columbus Crew

Guillermo Barros Schelotto’s 98th minute penalty was the game-winning goal in Columbus’ 2-1 win over D.C. United in the semi-finals of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup tonight at RFK Stadium. United’s season long nemesis of not finishing their opportunities reared it’s ugly head once again when two golden chances were missed late in the match. Andy Najar and Dejan Jakovic were the latest in a long line of United players unable to find the net when the team needed it most.

United took the lead in this physical contest in the 13th minute thanks to some comical defending from the visiting Crew. Goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum flubbed a clearance right into the path of United attacker Pablo Hernandez. The Argentine pushed the ball past defender Andy Iro and the Englishman make a clumsy tackle giving referee Chris Penso no choice but to point to the penalty spot. Hernandez calmly stepped up and shot to Gruenenbaum’s left for a 1-0 United lead. United leads have been few and far between this season and the teams made it to halftime in the physical contest with United still holding the 1-0 lead.

After the intermission is when things really got interesting however. Andy Najar, United’s 17-year old star, hit the post inside of two minutes after the restart but the real fireworks came in the 59th minute. Pablo Hernandez was hacked down by Columbus hard man Danny O’ Rourke and Hernandez kicked out at O’Rourke as referee Chris Penso inexplicably waved play on. While on the ground, O’Rourke leaned over the prone Hernandez and was pointing in his face in an apparent attempt to tell him that his diving wouldn’t be tolerated. Play stopped seconds later as both teams gathered around the players involved in the altercation. Referee Penso consulted with the near side assistant referee and Hernandez was show a straight red card to O’Rourke’s yellow.

Despite the numerical disadvantage, United still managed to keep the Crew from registering any real dangerous opportunities. Columbus finally got it’s first shot at United goalkeeper Bill Hamid in the 67th minute. Even though United was down a man, they arguably had the better opportunity to lengthen the lead. Najar’s individually brilliant run in the 79th minute was thwarted by Gruenenbaum to keep the score at 1-0.

United was about two minutes away from a well deserved trip to their consecutive final of the U.S. Open Cup when Andy Iro’s goalmouth shot was redirected into the goal by United defender Marc Burch in the 89th minute. However, just seconds after the restart, Najar somehow managed to get behind the Columbus back line and only had the hard charging Gruenenbaum to beat when his delicate chip went wide of the goal. “No, there’s nothing I can say to them right now”,  said a clearly frustrated head coach Ben Olsen after the match when asked if there was anything he could say to his team to lift their spirits. “We just can’t seem to reward ourselves. I’m proud of the guys, they deserve better, but they just can’t seem to reward themselves for their hard work.”

Extra-time beckoned and two fifteen minute halves would be played. Eight minutes into the overtime Crew striker Steven Lenhart out hustled United substitute Carey Talley to a ball in the corner. Lenhart then nutmegged Talley and ran along the endline unopposed to the doorstep of the goal when Talley took him down from behind. Schelotto stepped up and easily converted the spot kick to give the visitors the 2-1 lead. Although United had every reason to pack up and simply play out the remainder of overtime, they honestly should have drawn the match level in the 105th minute. Jordan Graye’s slide-tackle popped a ball loose and Santino Quaranta led United on a rare jailbreak towards Columbus’ goal. Quaranta slipped the ball to his right to Najar who sent an inch-perfect pass across the face of goal to a wide open Dejan Jakovic who somehow managed to send the ball over the vacated goal. With that miss, a season of frustration was summed up in one micro-moment. The Achilles Heel of the 2010 version of D.C. United is their complete inability to finish in front of goal. It somehow seemed fitting that United would bow out of the Open Cup with such a horrific miss.

With the Open Cup out of the way now, United is focused on their eight remaining MLS matches starting on Saturday night against this same Columbus Crew team. The match will start at 7:30 pm and will be shown live on Fox Soccer Channel.

Q & A with Marc Burch and Clyde Simms

Defender Marc Burch
How is pre-season going for you?
“It’s going well.”

“It’s different this year. A lot more people came in fit and ready to go. It’s a lot more soccer. And the coaches are taking a look at how we are doing and how our fitness is doing, which is a lot better. I think we pushed a little too hard last year and burned out. This year everyone is enjoying coming back and feeling good.”

There were serious changes between 2007 and 2008, and now more changes from last year to this year. What do you believe that has done to the team?
“It’s definitely a big change. It feels like a lot more . . . . like everybody working for each other. We felt last year that it (pre-season) was more like trying to feel each other out. But, this year everybody is ready to work hard and get into it and be there for each other.”

“It feels good knowing that the guy next to you is working as hard as you are. It keeps him going and keeps you going. It just keeps going down, and down, and down. When somebody comes in that fit, then you know you have to get to that level. You know people worked hard in the off-season, so you’re going to work hard. It’s definitely better.”

“Last year we had people coming in that didn’t really know the team, didn’t really know how we ran things. This year is more like a core group of guys. A lot of that are back from last year are the group that is going to lead the team.”

How does it make you feel that your contending for a left side position and you have competition from Zaher, Fred, and Guerrero?
“It’s good! It’s great! It pushes me every single day to continue to work on my game and get better. I don’t think that I’ve got a spot guaranteed – I know they want me to play left back – so, I need to prove that I can play left back for this team.”

“With the guys in front and the guys behind me, everybody is working for each other this year and we’ve just got to fit in the right pieces.”

“If I have to move up to midfield, then I have to do it. If I have to play center back, then I have to do it.”

“I have to compete for a starting spot. I’m not just saying that I have a spot and I’m going to move forward from there. I’m going to make sure that on the 22nd (March) I’m going to be starting against LA (Galaxy).”

Many people point at the defense as the weak point last year. Specifically, many people point at the back line as a major weakness, and you were a major part of that last year. What do you think of that accusation?
“I take full responsibility. At the beginning of the year I started at left back, then I got benched. I take responsibility even when we’re giving up goals when I’m on the bench – I’m not pushing hard enough to make sure I get on the field, or I’m not good enough to be on the field. I take that to heart.”

“Also, we had some injuries. You can’t always blame things on injuries, but it is tough to move people around. When I came back into the line up it was more as a center back role, which I’d never played. But, I worked as hard as I could to try to figure out that role and to try to help out the team.”

“We take all the responsibility. I come into this season thinking that there is no way that we’re going to be anywhere close to the bottom of the table. It doesn’t matter who we have back there, we’re going to be working hard for each other.”

“I’m just hoping that we can prove what we did two years ago when we went on that seven game shutout streak, and a fourteen game unbeaten streak. I think that’s where we can be at this year. It will be a lot of hard work, but I think we have the guys to do it.”

“It’s going to be a lot more of a team defense than last year. I felt like last year people were pointing the finger at us, but that’s only four people, and there’s eleven people on the team. If the opponents take eight people forward, we can’t guard all eight. All of us are going to be committed to defending and getting the shutouts.”

Several of the other players this week said that they believe the team has a good enough core group of players to go forward this season. Do you feel that way?
“I feel like we’re good right now. I felt like I had games last year where I completely shut down the right side coming at me. I know that Namoff had plenty of games where he shut down his side. When the center backs were on, we were shutting people down. We can do it. When we stick together and cover for each other when someone does falter, I don’t think we need anyone else right now.”

“If they bring him in, hopefully we’ll be able to fit him in.”

“But, I think we have the people. If we play our best game every single game, and cover for each other, then I don’t see why we can’t have one of the best defenses.”

What are you personal goals, and what do you see as the goals for the team?
“I hate coming into this pre-season knowing that we were one of the lowest teams in MLS. The fact is that we were. We want to be the best team. We had games where we looked like we were one of the best teams.”

“Definitely this year I’m looking forward to getting more into the attack – getting forward, scoring some goals, getting a lot more assists . . . . and definitely shoring up the back. We’ve got to better in the back. We can’t ever let in five goals in a game. We can’t let four or even three goals in a game. Two max! I’m hoping for shutouts for every single game.”

“I’ve been thinking throughout the off-season that when I get with the defense that we’re going to pick goals . . . pick games where we’re going to get the shutout, going to shut down the big name players, shut down the flanks and not let crosses into the big guys. As a team I think we’ll be able to do it this year.”

Midfielder Clyde Simms
How is pre-season going for you?
“It’s going well.”

“We’re taking a different approach this pre-season. I think it has to do with us not having games so early like we had it the past. We’re taking it slow. I think it’s great on our bodies.”

“We do have a bunch of new faces and some very good players that I’m excited to be able to hopefully play with in the season coming up.”

Looking back on 2008 with all the changes, what do you take away from that?
“Like you said, there were a lot of changes in key positions. There were two center backs, and those are huge positions as far as the team is concerned. . . . .And a Number ‘10′ that we brought in also. And a new goalie, and that’s a big spot. All those spots take a lot of leadership.”

“We knew it was going to be tough. Those guys were new to the team. Soccer is a team sport and it takes a lot of chemistry. Whenever you bring new faces in, no matter how good those players are, it takes time to get those players together on the same page. I think we saw that a lot last season.”

Last year many said that the defense was the key weak point in the team. What do you think about that?
“When I think of defense in soccer I think of team defense . . .it’s all eleven players. It starts up to the forwards. A lot of people don’t realize how much pressure that the forwards can take off the midfielders, and the midfielders can take off of the backs if they pressure the attacker in the right way. It’s not about winning balls, but forcing attackers in one direction to make it easier for the guy behind you. I definitely think it’s a total team effort.”

“Some of the teams you watch, even in the big leagues in Europe some of teams rarely let in goals because guys are flying around, even the forwards are flying around putting pressure on defensive backs, not allowing them time to have good service forward. Things like that.”

“Team defending also has a lot to do with team chemistry. When you play with someone for a long time, a lot of the time you know where they’re going to be even if they’re behind you and you can’t see the – you know what positions they’re going to be in. That communication is usually there the longer guys have been together. I go back to the team chemistry thing and I think that had a lot to do with the break down in team defending.”

DC United has almost always worked with an offensive and defensive midfielder throughout its history – last year you were with Gallardo. How much of a disruption is it to your game to possibly get a new partner? And have you talked to Tommy Soehn about and specific names?
“No, I haven’t heard much about replacing Marcello. I do know that we do have some other good central midfielders. They may be a little more defensive minded.”

“I know that last year, when Marcello was out, we had to play with two defensive minded midfielders. I think that works well! I think that works well because a lot of the times, if you have a specific attacking midfield it limits the lanes for others to get forward. I feel you can throw the other team off if you have two guys, both attacking and defensive . . . one guy goes, the other holds. When you play with an attacking midfield and a defensive midfielder, a lot of the time they know that the attacker is going to be in the attacking position, and the defensive midfielder is going to hold back.”

“I’m excited to see if they do bring in someone. That’s totally up to the coaches. I do think that we have the talent here to fill that void.”

What are you personal goals and what do you think the goals for the team should be?
“My personal goals . . . I think ultimately that my personal goals will happen only by being on a great team . . . a winning team. First and foremost I want to make us a successful soccer team. When that comes, I think the other things, like National Team call-ups and things like that, will come after that. Right now I’m just focused on making the team the best possible.”

You turned down some offers in Europe? Do you want to go to Europe?
“I had some trials at Nottingham Forrest and Blackpool. They’re in the Championship. I thought about it long and hard, and I’m very happy here at DC United.”

“There are a lot of guys that go from team to team looking for a good situation. I feel that I have that good situation. I’m close to my family and home. I enjoy DC as a city. I’m happy.”

“I don’t think that I should just go after the money or something like that. I”ve talked with some guys that made that jump, then ended up back here, and they ended up in a worse situation now than when they first left. It’s tough. I might think down the road that I should have gone, but I’m happy.”