United holds on for 1-1 draw in home opener versus Chicago fire

Luciano Emilio scored an early first half goal and Chicago’s Patrick Nyarko equalised eight minutes into the second half for a deserved 1-1 draw between the Eastern Conference rivals.

Chicago, coming off an impressive 3-1 road win in Dallas last week, didn’t put up much of a fight in the first half as Black and Red applied heavy and high pressure all over the field for the entire first half. United were rewarded with a much deserved lead on a beautiful left footed blast from their Designated Player Luciano Emilio in the 7th minute.

Although Emilio’s goal was unassisted, the goal might not have come if not for the play of fiesty midfielder Ben Olsen.  The play started with Jaime Moreno collecting the ball just inside the Chicago half. Moreno played the ball to Olsen who’s first touch was a bit too loose forcing Olsen to slide tackle Chicago midfielder Logan Pause. The resulting loose ball caromed straight to Emilio who turned towards goal. The Brazilian easily side-stepped defender C.J. Brown and let loose a 22 yard blast that left Chicago goalkeeper Jon Busch with no chance.

United continued to pile on the pressure and were unfortunate not to double the lead on two separate occasions. In the 26th minute United defender Bryan Namoff made a great run down the right flank and got past Fire defender Daniel Woolard and centered for impressive rookie Chris Pontius who’s one time shot curled just over the bar.

Just five minutes later Ben Olsen would latch onto a whipped in cross from Christian Gomez and his header was goal bound but well saved by Busch. The teams headed to the locker room with United leading 1-0.  “We started the game very well. I thought we put a heck of a lot into it and then denied them all over the place,” said D.C. boss Tom Soehn. “I wish we would have come out with a little bit more in the first half because we put so much into it and it showed, because our legs were a little heavy coming out in the second half. The tide changed and then we were on the defensive end.”

The tide indeed did change as the Fire came out guns ablazing to start the second half. A number of defensive mistakes nearly cost United the game-tying goal but it only took eight minutes after the restart for the match to be level. Patrick Nyarko collected a fine pass from Marco Pappa and drove past defender Dejan Jakovic towards goal, but at a severe angle. United keeper Josh Wicks, filling in for injured starter Louis Crayton, mistakenly tried to come out and smother the play and the second-year striker from Virginia Tech easily passed the ball into the empty net.

“The goal that they scored, you know, he should’ve stayed in his goal,” acknowledged Soehn of his netminder.  “But he did a lot of positives for us too, especially that save at the end on Chris [Rolfe]. Chris has a quick trigger and put it where he wanted to and Josh got across the goal very well.”

Both teams had glorious chances to reclaim the lead just seconds after the tying goal. Jaime Moreno spotted Pontius making a run down the right side behind the Fire defense. The rookie chested the ball and appeared to be one-v-one with Busch only to see his rifled shot hit the goalkeeper right in the stomach and he easily swept up the rebound. Just seconds later another bad misplay by the United defense allowed speedy winger Justin Mapp in on goal all alone. However the former first round draft pick by United smashed his shot over the bar to the relief of the 15,895 fans in attendance.

The Fire were not done and nearly took the lead at the death of the match when defender Tim Ward hit a vicious shot from about 40 yards that Wicks spilled right into the path of Brian McBride. Wicks got his wits about him just in time to deflect the shot over the bar. While Wicks was having an off night to be sure, he saved his best for last when he parried a Chris Rolfe shot wide of the goal in the 89th minute. If SportsCenter were so inclined, that save should make the Top Ten plays of the day. Wicks was not done though as he had to dive to his right to deny Rolfe again in stoppage time. 

DC United Notes 

  • The attendance announced at 15,895 was the second lowest home opening attendance in team history. Only the 15,000 in 2003 was worse.
  • Louis Crayton, Devon McTavish, Greg Janicki, Fred and Santino Quaranta all missed the match due to injury. The Fire were missing their top two defenders Bukary Soumare (Mali) and Gonzalo Segares (Costa Rica) as they were with their national teams for World Cup qualifying duty. Fire defender C.J. Brown hobbled off injured in the 14th minute with a reported quad strain.
  • Chicago striker and league nemesis Cuauhtemoc Blanco only played 20 minutes but he showed his usual dosage of absolutely no class with his histrionics in a collision with Ben Olsen. The players collided just inside United’s half about ten minutes into Blanco’s induction into the match. After the collision Olsen turned towards Blanco who comically faked like he was going to viciously attack Olsen (in spite of nearly five yards between them). The two players got back into the action only to see Blanco completely fake that he got levelled by Olsen. Replays clearly showed the Olsen did his best to avoid the self-inflicted con job and Blanco’s already poor reputation for bringing the game into repute sank even further.
  • DC United will now face the Houston Dynamo at RFK next Saturday night at 7:30 pm.  The Dynamo come into the match on the heels of their 3-2 defeat at San Jose tonight. Houston has 1 point from their two matches thus far this season.

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