United earns hard fought 1-0 win over Toronto FC

Admit it.

 For a few moments in today’s 1-0 victory for D.C. United at Toronto FC, the season-long script of misery was playing itself out once again. United dominated possession, dominated the scoring chances and had a mind-numbing miss in the second half that seemed to be a hallmark of their dismal 2010 campaign.

Julius’s James’ 81st minute goal changed all that and the Black-and-Red got themselves a well deserved victory. While the win will do little for United’s miniscule playoff chances, the mere fact that they finally rewarded themselves for good play could give this team what it has had very little of this season – some confidence.

The game-winning goal came about when Danny Allsopp won a free kick near the right side corner flag. Second half substitute Branko Boskovic sent a whipped in ball that Allsopp got the slightest touch to. The ball fell to the feet of James who showed remarkable composure in waiting for the defender to commit before blasting a left-footed shot to the far post.

That composure was needed earlier in the match when United had a number of opportunities to take the lead. Allsopp and Pablo Hernandez worked a very nice give-and-go that left Allsopp all alone in the box but Toronto FC goalkeeper Stephen Frei did well to come out and smother the shot to keep the game at 0-0.

Just minutes into the second half United should have taken the lead. Andy Najar got loose at the top of the penalty area and managed to work his way through two defenders with only Frei to beat. Najar made the correct choice in slotting the ball to his left to a wide open Santino Quaranta but he over hit his pass forcing Quaranta to try and slide to meet the ball. Quaranta’s effort went agonizingly wide of the open goal and you could sense a seasons worth of frustration starting to build for United with that miss.

United did manage to overcome that miss unlike in previous matches this season and put the pressure on the home side that still has a decent chance to make the playoffs. The loss however will be a dagger blow to Toronto FC as they were facing the last place team in the league who was having trouble scoring goals. Toronto did not seem to show any urgency until they fell behind late in the match and while there were a few troubling chances for the home side, goalkeeper Troy Perkins and his defense were rock solid in keeping the clean sheet.

United Notes

  • Clyde Simms was a late scratch when he pulled up with an injury in pregame warmups
  • Boskovic made a substitute appearance after helping Montenegro to two wins in European Qualification during the past week.
  • D.C. United will be facing Western Conference leader, La Galaxy, on Saturday September 18 at the Home Depot Center. Fans of sports betting sites should take into account United’s win over Toronto FC when placing bets.
  • D.C. United announced that Bill Hamid, United’s 19-year-old goalkeeper, will travel to Birmingham, Alabama, to undergo surgery to repair a torn labrum on his right shoulder effectively ending his season. Hamid has started eight games for the Black-and-Red but has been struggling with shoulder pain all season.

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.

Allsopp double ends United five-game losing streak as United defeats Philadelphia Union 2-0

Former D.C. United coach Peter Nowak’s return to RFK was not a good one as his visiting Philadelphia Union fell 2-0 thanks to a brace from United’s striker Danny Allsopp. The Aussie scored on either side of halftime as the Black-and-Red fought their way to a hard earned and long overdue win. United ended a five-game losing streak with the win and for the second time this season it was an Allsopp double that did it. Allsopp scored twice against the Kansas City Wizards in their 2-1 win on May 5th that ended a season starting five-game losing streak to start the MLS season.

United gained a rare lead in the 22nd minute when Philadelphia Union and former University of Maryland defender Danny Califf  botched a simple clearance when he fell just as the ball from Andy Najar was entering the heart of the penalty area. Allsopp pounced on the loose ball and easily beat another former Terp, goalkeeper Chris Seitz to his right for the 1-0 lead. Through 21 MLS matches, this was only the third time United had scored first in the game. Coincidentally, United has won all 3 matches in which the scored first (the aforementioned May 5th win over Kansas City, United’s last win 3-2 in Seattle and today). United seemed relieved at the prospect of holding a first half lead and immediately fell back to the dismay of interim coach Ben Olsen, “I didn’t like that. We got the goal and then just forgot what got us the lead to begin with.”

Both United and Philadelphia had to endure a massive thunderstorm that erupted late in the first half and made conditions very difficult. Both teams hung on through the remainder of the half with United clinging to a 1-0 lead. After the intermission the rain moved out of the area and United really got down to some good soccer. Santino Quaranta had a narrow miss of the far post with a curling shot in the 56th that almost gave the home side a rare two goal lead. United did not hang their heads and finally rewarded themselves with perhaps their best team goal of the season in the 63rd minute. With the visiting Union pouring players forward, a United clearance sprung Andy Najar down the right flank. The 17-year old was no match for Union left back Jordan Harvey as he blew by him and sent a ball right across the top of the penalty area. United forward Pablo Hernandez suckered Union defender Michael Orozco into covering him by letting the ball dummy through his legs to a wide open Allsopp on the opposite side. The Aussie took one touch towards goal and unleashed a left-footed blast past Seitz for the 2-0 lead and essentially put the nail in the coffin in this match.

Jaime Moreno made his first appearance at RFK since his announcement of not coming back to play for United two weeks ago and nearly brought the 12, 165 fans to their feet with some vintage Jaime stuff. Moreno got hold of a loose ball at the top of the D in stoppage time and his one-team smooth chip beat Seitz to the far corner but the shot went tantalizingly wide left. That goal would have been justice for the long-serving Bolivian who seems now to have a part-time role for his remaining days with United.

With the win, United moves withing 2 points of the Union in the standings but still are long long way from playoff contention. Essentially any losses from this point forward would sound the death knell for United, if it hasn’t been sounded already. United now moves on to take on the Chivas USA next Sunday evening in Los Angeles. This match will be televised on ESPN2 starting at 10:00 pm EST

United Notes

– Chris Pontius was held out of the 18-man squad due to a slight hamstring injury. Olsen said after the match that is was purely precautionary

– Junior, the brother of former United player Fred who’s been on an extended trial with United, was seen before the match sporting a pretty noticeable limp. No comment was given by the staff or the front office on his potential signing

– Clyde Simms returned to the lineup for the first time in three weeks. Stephen King made way for him but was the first sub off the bench for United

United thrash Portsmouth FC 4-0 behind Allsopp hat trick

In many respects tonight’s match between MLS cellar dwellers D.C. United and financially strapped Portsmouth FC shouldn’t have been played. Portsmouth, relegated to the English Championship in part because their team went into financial administration at the end of their Premier League season this past Spring, has endured a nightmarish week of games and travel across the United States and Canada. Bringing only a handful of players, it wasn’t expected to be a match to miss on the tail end of their journey. Flight delays, long travel and logistical nightmares have marred the trip for the 2008 FA Cup winners. How long ago that must seem as their team were soundly thrashed 4-0 by D.C. United,  MLS’ worst team.

Honestly it really wasn’t a surprise to anyone that Pompey had nothing to offer a United team looking to regain any kind of spark to reignite their MLS campaign. Danny Allsopp may have made a case for more playing time as he scored three goals to lead United to a comfortable win. Heading into the match the temperature outside was a huge factor as it hit over 100 degrees during the day. What we didn’t know was that the temperature on the field at times was even hotter and the match boiled over in the second half. Three red cards were handed out in the match with Santino Quaranta and Julius James getting their marching orders in the second half. Haydon Mullins was ejected along with Quaranta as the players traded spits at each other in full view of game official Jorge Gonzalez. Julius James saw his red card late in the match for shoving a Pompey player down to the ground.

The fireworks on the field started midway through the first half with a number of hard tackles that mostly found the skilled left-foot of United newbie Pablo Hernandez. At halftime United head coach Curt Onalfo and some of his staff  had to be separated by the fourth official and MLS officials as they openly questioning the Pompey coaching staff about their cynical tactics. This was a friendly after all.

Meanwhile to the actual match itself it was the home side who despite a slow and methodical start, got on the board first in the 21st minute. United won a free kick on the right side of midfield and Hernandez swung in a beautiful ball right to the temple of Allsopp who scored easily past Pompey goalkeeper Jamie Ashdown for a 1-0 lead. United doubled their lead with a bit good fortune in the 31st minute. United worked the ball down the left flank and Santino Quaranta’s pass met the foot of Allsopp at the top of the box. The Australian strikers first touch was poor and he won the ball off the sliding tackle of a Portsmouth defender and then deftly flicked the ball with the outside of his right foot into the side netting for a 2-0 lead that held until halftime.

DC United's Boyzz Kuhmalo controls the ball during his team's friendly match vs Portsmouth. Phto Tony QUinn.

DC United's Boyzz Kuhmalo controls the ball during his team's friendly match vs Portsmouth. Phto Tony QUinn.

After the break United made a few changes to the lineup, one of which was to bring on Junior Carreiro, the 18-year old brother of former United midfielder Fred. Junior immediately gave life to United’s attack with a number of slick moves to break free of defenders and his quick moves easily unbalanced the Pompey defense. His skill was a big part of United’s most fluent and best goal sequence of the season in the 56th minute. Pablo Hernandez dropped deep into midfield to win a ball and made a fantastic spin move in between two Pompey defenders and broke free. He sent a pass down the left flank where Jordan Graye whisked past his defender. Graye’s cutback move into the box saw Junior open at the top of the penalty area. Graye’s pass was one-touched by Junior between two Pompey defenders to a wide open Branko Boskovic on the right heading towards goal. With goalkeeper Jamie Ashdown coming out to challenge Boskovic, the Montenegran calmly squared his pass across the goalmouth to Hernandez who simply tapped into the empty net for a 3-0 United lead. With United’s scoring woes so far this season in MLS, it was nice to see an exchange between three players who weren’t even on this team three weeks ago.

United finalized the route in the 65th minute with another sublime goal from Allsopp. Junior again was a key component as his perfectly weighted pass between the last two Pompey defenders sent Allsopp through alone on goal. Allsopp waited for Ashdown to commit and he calmly slotted the ball into the goal to give United it’s most decisive win of the season. United kept the beleaguered visitors from England off the score sheet with having to make only two saves all night long. Troy Perkins started the first half for United and Bill Hamid finished the match and made probably his best save of his young career to keep the game a shutout. Pompey were awarded a free kick after the ejection of United defender Julius James in the 90th minute. Pompey defender Matthew Richie saw his goal bound kick swerve around the United wall only to see the acrobatic 19-year old keeper at full stretch parry the ball to safety.

That was the last play as the Black-and-Red now turn their attention back to league play when they go visit MLS Cup Champion Real Salt Lake next Saturday evening. Let’s hope United’s new found confidence can start to translate to much needed MLS wins.

DC United's Devon McTavish and Seattles Roger Levesque battle for the ball during the match. Levesque would give the visitors the 3 points on a dramatic 89th minute goal. Photo: Matt Mathai.

Defensive blunder in the 89th minute sends United to 1-0 loss at home to Seattle

DC United's Devon McTavish and Seattles Roger Levesque battle for the ball during the match. Levesque would give the visitors the 3 points on a dramatic 89th minute goal. Photo: Matt Mathai.

DC United's Devon McTavish and Seattle's Roger Levesque battle for the ball during the match. Levesque would give the visitors the 3 points on a dramatic 89th minute goal. Photo: Matt Mathai.

Roger Levesque’s diving header in the 89th minute was all visiting Seattle Sounders FC needed to upend D.C. United tonight at RFK Stadium. United, coming home after a relatively successful road trip, were flat and uninspired for most of the match in the 1-0 loss and it was a bad defensive blunder late in the game that sealed the Black-and-Red’s fate. Rookie defender Jordan Graye was easily stripped of the ball near midfield by substitute Sanna Nyassi who immediately darted towards United’s goal. The Gambian slipped the ball to the right corner into the path of Fredy Montero. Montero’s first time cross floated over Troy Perkins to the back post where Levesque was waiting to meet the ball with a head first dive and into the net to send the 13,716 fans home disappointed again. United has now been shut out an alarming 11 times in 16 league matches, a pace which will cement United into the MLS record books for futility should the season long trend continue.

United wasn’t without their chances as 17-year old Andy Najar forced Kasey Keller into a number of first half saves to keep the game at 0-0. In the second half Najar continued his torrid pace down the right flank and nearly set up Chris Pontius only to have Keller bat the ball away at the last second. United debutants Pablo Hernandez and Branko Boskovic both came into the match and briefly spurred United to better opportunities. Both players had shots saved by Keller deep in the box to keep the visitors within striking distance.

And as it has happened seemingly all season long, United paid for their impotence in the final third of the field in the 89th minute with Graye’s youthful mistake. United now must face the impossible task of hosting MLS league leaders the Los Angeles Galaxy on Sunday evening with only two days rest. One team can’t stop scoring goals and one team can’t score at all. I’ll let you decide which is which.

United Notes

  • Bryan Namoff has decided to suspend his playing career due to his long-term concussion injury. United has already seen the careers of Alecko Eskandarian and Josh Gros end prematurely due to the same injury.
  • No word yet on whether or not United will pick up Luciano Emilio’s contract for the remainder of the season. Emilio did not score in league matches but did get two goals in Open Cup and the AC Milan match

At halfway point of season, United has been quite offensive

I never thought the day would come where DC United was a team that was well on the way to shattering league records for scoring ineptitude. At their current pace, United would end up with 22 goals scored and suffering a mind-numbing 20 shutouts. While the most hearty of United fans can’t even fathom those dreadful numbers, it’s a real and distinct possibility unfortunately. Be it missing sitters or ordinary MLS goalkeepers channeling their inner-Iker Casillas, United simply has been dreadful in the final third this season. Think about this for a second. They’ve played 15 MLS matches, half a season, and they’ve only scored in 5 of them.

The MLS record holder for season long futility was last season’s version of New York Red Bull when they tallied 27 goals in their 30 game season. What I wouldn’t give to be on that pace right now. Remember how we all made it a season long bashfest on Red Bull because of their futility. Well, Mr Kettle, meet Mr. Pot.

So what has caused this record pace inability to bulge the ol’ onion bag? Let’s take a look.

The Big Purge

Luciano Emilio, Fred and Christian Gomez were all let go in various forms during the off-season and truth be told, they were essentiall the heart of the offense last season along with Jaime Moreno who was always going to survive the eventual cull of offensive talent. We can all raise our hands and say “my bad” because we were all calling for it by the end of the 2009 MLS season. Luciano simply didn’t work hard enough. Fred was stuck in a second consecutive season of poor to putrid play and Gomez simply wasn’t getting the minutes despite doing OK when given the opportunity to play (I put that one down on Tom Soehn, who at seasons end was really feeling the pressure and making some bizzare lineup decisions including subbing out players in the first half, not even giving them the courtesy to making it to halftime).

During the off-season, I was leading the charge in getting United to drastically change the way they play as I felt their possession style was becoming too predictable and easy to defend. With practically no pace on this team, stroking the ball around the field and attempting to walk the ball into the goal was becoming harder and harder to do. Looking across MLS there were teams that were getting the ball from the back line through midfield and past the last line of defense in under 10 seconds while a United counter attack could be timed on a sun dial. Throw in the fact that United pretty much never scores on any free kicks or corners and you could see that a change was desperately needed.

With age catching up to Emilio, Gomez and Fred and their salaries WAY too much for what they were producing, the front office decided to rip the band aid off in one shot and went in a new direction under new head coach Curt Onalfo. Onalfo talked about using the wings more often and brought in target players like Danny Allsopp and Adam Cristman, both hard workers but limited players. The thinking was to get the youthful legs of Christian Castillo (who’s already bombed out) and preseason suprise then 16-year old Andy Najar to fly up and down the wings and feed crosses to the ever hard working Allsopp with Chris Pontius. Well, that hasn’t exactly worked out. It seems that the purge was too damaging to United and they’ve obviously struggled to score goals. 

Not Ready For Prime Time

Chris Pontius and Santino Quaranta were expected to have major impacts on United this season. With Jaime Moreno obviously not a 90 minute player anymore, the offensive impetus, such as it is, was expected to fall on the feet of Quaranta and Pontius. Truth be told, they’re just not up to the task. Aside from the fact that both players really don’t have a position to call their own, they’ve been major disappointments in the final third of the field. Pontius’ problem through 1 and 1/2 half MLS seasons is clearly his inability to finish in front of goal. He’s been in great position many times but really lacks the composure to score big goal numbers in this league. It’s ironic considering his very first MLS goal in his debut last season at the Los Angeles Galaxy is his best goal to date in MLS play.

As for Quaranta, he’s always been on the cusp of making it to that next level of great MLS player but is just too inconsistent. I firmly believe he has the physical tools to be a damn good player in this league, it just seems that it doesn’t always click with him. You can see what he’s thinking out there but it rarely comes off as it is intended. I feel that his mental approach really needs to be refined and sharpened for him to make that next step. As with Pontius, his finishing has been pretty poor since his return last season.

Now back to the argument that these players don’t get consistent minutes at their best position. Honestly, they both want to play the same position. Withdrawn striker. Unfortunately only one of them can do it and because of the poor quality of offensive players for United, they are both needed on the field. Therefore Pontius draws the short straw and has to go to the left side of midfield. Now we all know this isn’t his desired position, but to date in MLS it’s easily the position that he’s been most effective for United. In no way is he a classic winger as he rarely takes the ball down to the endline and whips in crosses. Quite often he cuts in and makes life difficult for the opposition. Fair enough, he’s pretty good at that. But again, it’s that pesky end product of finishing/providing that killer pass.

Quaranta’s best position to me is out on the right side of midfield as he is pretty much a clone of what Pontius tries to do on the left. However the emergence of Andy Najar has pushed Santino underneath the striker du jour (Cristman, Allsopp, Moreno) This is where it all seems to fall apart for United. Because of their lack of threat near the goal, United is falling prey to the same problems from last season in terms of scoring. The difference, and it’s plain to see, is that the individual talent of Fred, Gomez and Emilio got this team on the scoresheet in spite of their age and seeming inneffectiveness at times.

Help On The Way?

Giving the front office credit for player moves hasn’t exactly been a popular topic amongst the “internut nuts” as Kevin Payne once termed a portion of United’s rabid fan base. In this case, give the boys a little bit of credit for realizing that what they deemed as good enough heading into the MLS season has been far far from good enough. In comes 23-year old Argentine striker Pablo Hernandez and Montenegran National Team captain and creative midfielder Bosko Boskovic. Only time will tell whether or not they can help turn around United’s record breaking season of futility. One has to think they have to be able to help as United simply has no ideas in the final third of the field and injecting new blood and new ideas might be exactly what they are needing and looking for.

Hernandez and Boskovic are both left-footed players with the ability to score from set pieces and also provide that killer pass to set up goals. United has had a long history of left-footed players who have made impact with United (Marco Etcheverry, Hristo Stoitchkov, Freddy Adu, Bobby Convey, Alecko Eskandarian and even defender Jeff Agoos) and the United faithful are praying that if they get half the impact of the list above, United should be alright for the near future.

As it stands right now, United has 15 games to turn this abomination around. It’s funny that during the recent broadcast of United’s 0-0 draw at New York Red Bull last Saturday night, both Dave Johnson and Thomas Rongen were correctly giving their due to United’s excellent defensive performance, especially from Julius James who cut out a number of potentially dangerous chances from Red Bull. But there was no mention at all of United’s offensive woes. Nobody pointed out the fact that this team has been shut out for over 2/3 of their league season. Same thing for the post-game show with Russ Thaler and Keith Tabatznik. No mention at all of the 800 pound gorilla in the room.

Why does it seem that everyone avoids this topic? Goal scoring is the be all to end all in MLS and United simply isn’t doing it. Isn’t it about time someone mentions it?