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United vs. Philadelphia: Controversy abounds in 1-1 draw with the Union

D.C. United captain Dwayne De Rosario missed his second attempt at a penalty kick in the 89th minute after scoring on the first as the Philadelphia Union held on to draw D.C. on Sunday, 1-1, in a match that spiraled out of control late at RFK Stadium.

An encroachment call on De Rosario’s successful penalty kick attempt in the 87th minute was followed by a scrum, during which United midfielder Branko Boskovic was handed a red card.

De Rosario rocketed the ensuing kick over the goal to preserve the final score, but the dramatics weren’t done. D.C. defender Emiliano Dudar was handed a straight red three minutes later, Union defender Sheanon Williams was sent off with a second yellow in the dying seconds of the match.

The Union ended a two-game losing skid despite blowing an early lead, while D.C. now have one win their previous five tries. Philadelphia (7-12-3, 24 points) jumped up one spot to eighth in the Eastern Conference while D.C. (11-8-4, 37) took sole possession of fifth, just ahead of the Montreal Impact.

After beating Philadelphia goalkeeper Zac MacMath to his right on the first penalty attempt, De Rosario chipped his second shot high over the net. Chris Pontius was tripped by Roger Torres in the box, setting the stage for the penalty.

Boskovic’s 70th-minute free kick deflected off Philadelphia’s Amobi Okugo for an own goal that proved the equalizer in a match where the Union’s Brian Carroll gave Philadelphia a 1-0 lead in the eighth minute.

Boskovic, who entered the match in the 57th minute and turned the tide for the Black-and-Red, delivered a beautiful left-footed service that slid through the penalty area, then caromed off Okugo’s head and by the outstretched arms of MacMath.

Philadelphia’s goal resulted from a set piece where former United midfielder Freddy Adu lobbed a useful ball toward the box. The service pin-balled to Carlos Valdes, who fired a shot that was headed well wide of United’s goal only to ricochet off United midfielder Perry Kitchen, right to Carroll. The former United midfielder poked it by United keeper Bill Hamid for his first goal of the season and sixth of his career.

In the 64th minute, it appeared United had their first goal, but referee Mark Geiger ruled MacMath was interfered with by Hamdi Salihi as he was reaching for the ball. Replays showed MacMath didn’t have control of the ball on the play and the call drew the ire of a majority of the 12,312 spectators in attendance.

Both goalkeepers loomed large in the first half with Hamid making two diving saves and MacMath stopping four quality chances.

D.C. United will now take on the red-hot Chicago Fire on Wednesday evening before heading north to take on the Montreal Impact on Saturday evening.

 

United Notes

– Dudar and Boskovic will be out the match on Wednesday due to their red card ejections. Most likely Dejan Jakovic will play central defense alongside Brandon McDonald with De Rosario filling in the central midfield role, as he did tonight to start the match.

– Lionard Pajoy started for United and played 57 minutes before being replaced by Boskovic. Ironically, Danny Cruz, whom he was traded for on Thursday, also started for the Union and was subbed out in the 57th minute. Head coach Ben Olsen said he was pleased with Pajoy’s performance but still needs to figure out his team mates tendencies.

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 Philadelphia Union: United steal a win in Philadelphia

On a night where D.C. United were less than impressive coming off a two-week break, the Black-and-Red managed to steal a 1-0 victory over the hapless Philadelphia Union. The Union (2-8-2  8 pts) were playing their first match after the firing of Peter Nowak during the midweek and were by far the more aggressive team on the night and were unfortunate not to take advantage of a rare off night for United.

Chris Pontius’ goal off of another brilliant free kick from Branko Boskovic in the 78th minute was the difference and kept United (9-4-3  30pts) in first place for another week in the Eastern Conference. United has won four games in a row after struggling for over three seasons to even put back-t0-back wins together. The goal was the sixth of the season for Pontius who was making his first league appearance since early May due to an injury to his backside. Boskovic once again provided the key spark for United when he subbed in for the ineffective Maicon Santos midway through the second half. To be fair to Santos, not a single player for United stood out on a night where there was no cohesion and the “new coach bump” for Philadelphia was in full effect.

Boskovic’ free kick was whipped perfectly over the wall to Pontius who ran on to the ball at the back post for an easy tap-in. On the evening United created very few chances and were just a step off and were fortunate not to go behind if not for a few sparkling saves from Bill Hamid. Hamid’s save on a Carlos Valdez header in the 86th minute preserved the win for United.

United’s next opponent will be another Eastern Conference rival when they travel to Harrison, New Jersey to take on the Red Bulls on Sunday, June 24th.

Antoine Hoppenot of the Philadelphia Union after scoring the winning goal for his team and eliminating D.C. United from the U.S. Open Cup. Photo Tony Quinn.

US Open Cup – United vs Philadelphia: United falls to Union 2-1 AET

Rookie Antoine Hoppenot’s second-minute strike into the first session of extra time was enough to lead the Philadelphia Union to an upset 2-1 win over D.C. United last night in the 4th Round of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup tournament. A second-half sub, Hoppenot got onto the end of beautifully weighted through ball from former United player Freddy Adu and fought off a sliding challenge from United defender Emiliano Dudar and slipped the ball past Bill Hamid for the game-winner in a contest that was physical from the first whistle and ended with two players being sent off for fighting.

United fell behind after a rather tame first half of action when Brian Carroll’s shot in the 44th minute was deflected off the arm of Dudar and past Hamid for a 1-0 lead. Just seconds later however, United responded swiftly through their only good piece of buildup play all night long. Striker Hamdi Salihi did well to control a pass with his back to the goal at the top of the penalty area. After wiggling his way out of defensive pressure, his pass spotted Andy Najar on the wing. The Honduran crossed the ball to the far side of goal where Nick DeLeon headed the ball back across the face of goal to a wide open Josh Wolff to simply nod into the empty net for a 1-1 scoreline heading into halftime

After the break it was more of the same ineffective soccer from United. Despite naming a very strong first X1, United were second best most of the evening to all challenges and created very little offensively and in some respects were fortunate to get to extra time still level with Philadelphia. However, that tide turned rather quickly in extra time and with United missing some of their most effective players (Dwayne De Rosario and Dejan Jakovic are with the Canadian National Team and Chris Pontius and Danny Cruz were still out with injuries), United only had defensive subs left on the bench and could muster very little except from a Salihi shot that was well saved by Union goalkeeper Zack McMath.

The loss for United stings for the moment but now all of their remaining attention for the 2012 campaign can be focused on a long-lost return to the MLS playoffs. Up next for United is a rematch with the Union in Philadelphia on June 16th to restart their MLS season after a two-week break.

 

 

DC United's Dwayne De Rosario keeps his eye on the ball. DeRo's hat trick against his former team saved United from another loss at RFK. Photo: Tony Quinn.

United-Union, Showdown in PPL Park

DC United head to PPL Park in Philadelphia to take on the Philadelphia Union in match that could easily have crucial implications on the playoff picture for both teams. As Eastern Conference rivals, this match could have more than a six point swing for the winner as it will likely decide the tie-breaker between them as well.

After their stunning 4-1 win over Real Salt Lake last Saturday, DC United now has an unexpected, but glorious opportunity to boost their playoff possibilities even higher if they can manage a two game win streak for the first time in over two years by beating their newest rival Philadelphia tomorrow night.

Philadelphia currently sits in the ninth playoff slot, but a mere two points ahead of United and DC has a game in hand as well. So, a win and DC passes the Union likely into a wild card slot (depending on other results this busy week), and even better than that, DC would hold the head to head tie breaker on Philly as the teams tied 2-2 in their first meeting this year.

The win over RSL has to have given DC a major boost in confidence that should come in handy as they are facing a Philly team that has one of the toughest defenses in the league, and is coached by the last man to lead DC United to an MLS cup, Piotr Nowak. DC playing with some confidence will be especially valuable as the Union have been stumbling of late, after floating around the top of the table for most of the first half of the season.

Philly started the season 8-4-7, but have only 1 win since July 17th, going 1-3-6 in their last 10 games. However, as their 13 ties signify, they are a tough team to outright beat and they are tops in the league at late goals to come back and secure a tie. However, they do often start matches badly and give up the first goal, which could be trouble against a DC team that can load the nets in a hurry if they score early like they did against RSL.

DC United is also as healthy as ever heading into this match, and there doesn’t seem to be any reason to tinker with the lineup that thrashed Salt Lake. Perhaps Olsen brings in Santino Quaranta or Daniel Woolard for Austin Da Luz or Marc Burch respectively, or maybe even starts Charlie Davies and shifts Dwayne De Rosario back into midfield shifting Stephen King to the bench, but I don’t think any of those things happen. King played one of his best matches of the year, Da Luz was very respectable, and even Burch earned his keep. Plus, obviously DeRo has proven once again that when he’s lined up at forward he can punish defenses.

Also, this game is perhaps more important than the weekend match looming in Columbus. DC already holds the edge on the Crew after the season opening thrashing of them, so a tie on Sunday gives them the tie breaker over the Crew should it come to that.

So, I expect Olsen to go with DeRo and Josh Wolff as forwards, Da Luz, King, Clyde Simms, and Andy Najar across midfield from left to right, and Burch, Brandon McDonald, Ethan White, and Perry Kitchen across the backline from left to right in front of Bill Hamid.

Philly, on the other hand is quite a bit more tricky to figure out. Former DC winger, Freddy Adu is just recently back healthy as is Stefani Miglioranzi, but right back Sheanon Williams is a bit dodgy coming back from a concussion and a balky hamstring, as is former number one draft pick, Danny Mwanga trying to come back from hip strain. Plus, Philly has a glut of games coming up starting with this one.

So, best guess is that Nowak goes with the guys that gutted out a point in KC last Friday. I think it’s almost a dead lock that Sebastion LeToux and the Serbian, Velkjo Paunovic start at forward, then in midfield it should be Amobi Okugo, Roger Torres, former DC midfielder Brian Carroll, and Michael Farfan across midfield from left to right. The ¾ of their defense will no doubt be Gabe Farfan, Danny Califf, Carlos Valdes, but the right back will be interesting if Williams is unable to go 90. Midfielder Kyle Nakazawa played there against KC, but wasn’t very convincing. Perhaps M. Farfan could be brought back to bookend his brother if Miglioranzi or 16 year old Zach Pfeffer are going to start, but my money is on Nakazawa getting another shot at it, completing the defense in front of former UMd keeper Zac MacMath, who will be backed up by pool keeper Chase Harrison, who had a brief stint with DC, since both Mondragon, and Philly’s third keeper are out injured.

So, looking at the matchups, it will be interesting to see how this plays out. With Paunovic up top for them, they end up playing more of a 4-5-1 similar to the system that Chivas used to flummox DC last week. In that game, Chivas dominated midfield and DC was chasing all night, but then again a nucleus of Mondaini, Moreno, and LaBrocca are perhaps a bit more experienced than Torres, Okugo, and Paunovic.

Anyway, Olsen can negate a lot of that if he keeps King on the field and keeps DeRo at forward, as King will do a lot more dirty work than DeRo would like to do which will help Simms from getting stretched out of position and over-run which Chivas was able to do. Conversely it keeps DeRo closer to their goal where he is the most dangerous man in MLS the past two months.

Bottom line if DC negates their central threat and therefore strands LeToux by himself, then the Frenchman will only be a threat on counters running onto long balls, and I believe White is capable of staying with him athletically, well as much as anyone in MLS can, anyway. Then it’s a simple matter of Kitchen shutting down Okugo (or maybe Freddy), and Burch or Woolard shutting down Farfan. Imminently doable, as long as Mwanga doesn’t come on late with the game close as he would then be a huge matchup problem alongside LeToux.

Offensively, Olsen has some serious firepower likely to come off the bench as well in Charlie Davies, as he will be far more effective going up against a tired Califf and hatchetman Valdes by coming off the bench for Wolff in the second half. Now, to start the match, DeRo should scare any backline in the league after what he personally did to RSL, and even though Califf and Valdes have been pretty light’s out good this year, Wolff is clever enough and DeRo flat out good enough and determined enough to score on anyone. Then Najar against G. Farfan will be interesting, as will Da Luz versus a banged up Williams or a dodgy Nakazawa. Either matchup could go either way, but I like DC’s chances, especially Najar, who has been red hot lately but overshadowed somewhat by DeRo’s ridiculous numbers recently.

As for the trends, as usual they don’t really favor DC very much. Of course DC lost in Philly last year, their only time playing there, but then again, they have scored 2 goals against the Union every time they have played them including that 3-2 loss and a 2-0 win here last year and a 2-2 tie here earlier this year (as well as an Open Cup PK win that was 2-2 in regulation). Even better, DC is the best team in the East on the road at 5-4-4, although they are coming off a loss in Seattle and have actually lost two of their last three on the road. Still, United does seem to play markedly better on the road overall, and they have to know how crucial this match is to their future.

As for Philly, while they are 6-1-8 in PPL Park, it is perhaps a bit deceptive. Certainly sounds impressive, but in fact after bolting out of the gate to go 5-0-4 at home until June, they have gone 1-1-4 since then, although the win did come in their last home match, a 1-0 win over the Crew two weeks ago. Unlike their habitual slow starts to games followed by a fabulous record of coming back to tie or win late, the Union are the opposite so far on the season, having started pretty well, but have merely been scrambling to hang on lately.

If the game goes to form, DC has a very good shot at a crucial 3 points and an end to a mind boggling streak of 73 games without winning two in a row. If DC can come out with their normal road energy, but snag a lead with their current confidence and determination, combined with Philly’s typical slow start, then the game gets interesting. Philly will come back of course, but United might have some answers with Davies coming off the bench as well. Should be a wild one given their history, and a tie does neither team any good.

No way I risk using the Martin curse by calling this one. Fingers crossed. (Hey, it worked last time!)

Deja Vu`all over again as United lets in late equalizer in 2-2 draw with Philadelphia

For the second consecutive weekend, D.C. United allows a late equalizing goal to deny themselves another opportunity to climb the table in the weak Eastern Conference of Major League Soccer. This week’s generous recipient were the Philadelphia Union who leveled the match at 2-2 in the 84th minute thanks in part to some lazy defending and the opportunistic killer instinct of Carlos Ruiz. Ruiz easily beat United rookie defender Ethan White to a centered ball from defender Sheanon Williams who also easily shed his defensive marker Chris Pontius down the right sideline.

Josh Wolff and Andy Najar scored the goals for United while Philadelphia’s first goal was an own-goal courtesy of more shoddy defending from rookie right-back Perry Kitchen. United got on the board first in this back-and-forth affair in the 44th minute thanks to newcomer Dwayne DeRosario and Najar. Najar received a ball from Ethan White along the left side line and the Honduran spotted DeRosario making a run into the left side of the penalty area. The crafty veteran froze defender Sheanon Williams and sent a low ball through traffic where Josh Wolff easily redirected the ball into the empty net for the 1-0 lead.

After the break, it was the visitors who struck first through some careless defending from United in the 49th minute. After a minute of sustained Union pressure deep in United territory, Chris Pontius chested a ball down right into the path of Union midfielder Veljko Paunovic. The Macedonian moved to the edge of the area and sent a ball to the far post that Kitchen seemed to have an easy bead on. However, token pressure from Sebastian Le Toux forced Kitchen into an awkward jumping clearance that hit off the inside of his knee and past a stunned Bill Hamid to level the match at 1-1.

It didn’t take long though for the 13,365 fans in attendance to erupt when in the 58th minute Andy Najar pulled off a bit of magic. Najar was fortunate that his cut-back move at midfield deflected through the legs Union midfielder Keon Daniel and bounded into open space. Najar took off towards the Union goal with no defender in sight and unleashed a wicked 35-yard blast that beat Union goalkeeper Faryd Mondragon to his right and ripped into the side-netting to give the Black-and-Red the lead once again at 2-1.

After that point however it seemed United pulled back and stopped being aggressive and fell into a defensive shell. Carlos Ruiz nearly equalized just two minutes after Najar’s wonder goal when he beat Ethan White to the penalty spot to meet a cross from Justin Mapp and his header was stopped point blank by Hamid. Philadelphia continued their pressure for the remainder of the match and just like last week’s disappointing 2-2 draw with the Houston Dynamo, lightning struck twice as the Union leveled the match in the 84th minute.

Sebastian Le Toux started the sequence by threading a ball in between Daniel Woolard and Chris Pontius to Williams and his one-time cross was clipped in by Ruiz as White was slow to get ball side to defend the play. Bill Hamid was left with no chance to save the play and United were left licking their wounds for a second consecutive weekend.

United now must embark on a two-game road trip to New York and Dallas before heading home to play the New England Revolution on July 20th.

 

United Notes

– Fred made his final appearance at RFK for United this evening. Fred is going to be transferred to the Melbourne Heart of the A-League in Australia when the International Transfer Window opens on July 15th. Fred will be with United for their two-game road trip starting next Saturday night at Red Bull Arena

– Jed Zayner will have surgery on his knee and most likely be out for the remainder of the season. United are frightfully thin on the back line these days and are bringing in players on trial to help stem the tide

 

Charlie Davis. Photo: Tony Quinn.

DC Hosts East Leading Philadelphia Union

League leading scorer Charlie Davies and DC United are licking their chops as they are set to take on the Eastern Conference leaders, the Philadelphia Union tomorrow night at RFK, as it will be the Black and Red debut for two time MLS Cup MVP, Dwayne De Rosario, whom United acquired midweek.

DC United made huge changes this week as they dealt away Dax McCarty in exchange for one of the most prolific and dynamic players in league history, Dwayne De Rosario, a five time MLS All Star and best XI player, winner of four MLS Cup titles. United also acquired Brandon McDonald from San Jose in exchange for some allocation money.

You have to like the moves United made in the sense that the team had two glaring weaknesses, a lack of scoring punch and leadership in the center of the field, and a serious lack of physicality and experience in their defense. Well, United clearly addressed those issues in spades by adding DeRosario, who is flat out a consistent game changer in this league, and by adding McDonald an unabashed teeth rattler in his fourth year in the league.

And both players are likely to start tomorrow night. De Rosario could easily slide into the central playmaking role, while McDonald could allow Perry Kitchen to cover the right back slot left empty by Jed Zayner’s midweek injury.

The Eastern Conference leading Union will be a good test for United’s revamped offense and defense too. Philly has risen to the top due to their unbeaten record at home for the most part, as well as the timely scoring of Carlos Ruiz and Danny Mwanga and a very stingy defense. But, they have also been very beatable on the road, including being shutout in 4 of 7 away matches.

After the deflating tie with Houston and looking ahead at United’s schedule, this match could have huge consequences down the road as United simply cannot keep giving away points at home. DeRo was brought in specifically to get United into the playoffs, and that push really needs to start tomorrow as the going gets pretty tough for DC for the rest of the summer.

United coach Ben Olsen does have one decision to make as it appears Charlie Davies is not likely to start given the knock he took to his ankle against Houston. So, it might be tempting to play DeRo at forward with Josh Wolff, but considering DeRo plays best as a central attacker and likely will fill that role when everyone is healthy, it seems more likely Olsen pays him in midfield and gives surprisingly effective rookie Blake Brettschneider another crack at starting.

In midfield, almost certainly it will be Chris Pontius, DeRo, Clyde Simms, and Andy Najar going left to right. Now, it’s just possible Olsen gives Stephen King the start and eases DeRo in by bringing him off the bench, but I can’t see that. If he’s ready to go 30-45 min, then he should start and don’t waste a sub slot on him.

In defense, Zayner’s injury comes at a inopportune time as that young backline was just getting some solid games back to back, and it means that the possible switch of Kitchen to midfield might be held off for the forseeable future as he is needed to cover for Ballz, who might be out quite a while depending on what’s found during his knee surgery this week. It is also ominous that left back Daniel Woolard hasn’t practiced this week with a back spasms and may not play either.

So, I expect Kitchen plays the right. Then Ethan White, McDonald, and Chris Korb on the left if Woolard’s back is still acting up. Now, I don’t want to worry you prematurely, but the rumor is that Marc Burch has been practicing for the first time since being out long term with a hamstring injury. However, it seems unlikely he gets back onto the field tomorrow after such a long time out. A few weeks from now would be a good time to worry about Burch starting. Now fingers crossed no injuries in the defense tomorrow!

Philly coach Piotr Nowak will almost certainly go with a similar lineup to the team that beat CHivas last weekend. Of course the dratted anchovy, Carlos Ruiz will be out there besmirching all that is good and pure in the game of soccer, and he will be joined by Macedonian Veljko Paunovic who scored his first MLS goals last week against Chivas. Sebastion LeToux and former DC midfielders Justin Mapp and Brian Carroll seemed sure to start in midfield, but that central playmaking role might be up for grabs as Jack McInerney started there the last two matches, but Nowak has used Kyle Nakazawa and Stefani Miglioranzi too, or even inserted Keon Daniel and shuffled the formation a bit. I suspect McInerney gets the nod, though.

Their defense is set in stone however. As long as Danny Califf and Carlos Valdes are not suspended, Nowak has played Sheanon Williams, Califf, Valdes, and Jordan Harvey across the back this season. A defense that has only given up 14 goals in 16 games so far this year, but 8 of those have come on in the 7 away matches for the Union.

So, looking at the matchups. Defensively, White and McDonald battling Ruiz and Paunovic is a crap shoot, especially with crazy Abby Okalaja as the ref. If Ruiz gets away with his usual antics and scores in RFK like a slot machine as he has done most of his career, then DC is in trouble of course. But, McDonald and White both have the physicality to battle the crafty and cruel Ruiz if it is a level playing field. Korb or Woolard will also have their hands full with the tireless Frenchman, LeToux who has been relatively quiet this year after a breakout year last year when he made an improbable run at a golden boot. But, Kitchen should eat up Mapp with no problems unless Mapp is due for one of his blinders. They don’t come that often, but they do come and if that’s the case, it’s just not DC’s night.

However, on offense DC has some huge advantages. Obviously, Wolff and Brettschneider would have trouble with Tats Califf and the beast Valdes, but with DeRo to spring them or burst forward to combine with them, then the edge goes to DC because Carroll will just be a bit of a speed bump for DeRo. Also, Pontius is playing so well right now, it’s hard to see him getting blanked by Williams, and Najar is just the type of scrappy player to unbalance Harvey a bit, especially if DeRo takes a lot of the pressure off them. You see what a key player he will be for DC. Think Christian Gomez circa 2004-7. He can be that much of a game changer.

Even the trends favor DC slightly. DC beat Philly the only time they played here last year in one of the banner wins of that pitiful season, and United also beat the Union on PKs this year in the Open Cup at the Soccerplex. As mentioned, the Union are hardly invulnerable on the road too. They are a mere 2-4-1 with 8 goals for and 8 against, 6 of those coming in Toronto. Their other win was their first game of the year when they surprised Houston 1-0. So, while they did tie Colorado in Dick’s Park, they also have been shutout their other four road matches including their last time out in Vancouver.

So, there you have it. If DeRo has a big first day on the job, DC could easily overwhelm Philly and win by two, assuming Okalaja keeps his paws off the match. A win right now could be huge with trips to NY and Dallas looming on the horizon.

DC Players Celebrate USOC Win over Union

DC United Nip Philadelphia Union on PKs

DC Players Celebrate USOC Win over Union. Photo: Martin Fernandez

DC Players Celebrate USOC Win over Union. Photo: Martin Fernandez

United’s Branko Boskovic (#8 above) scored the game clinching penalty kick as DC edged the Philadelphia Union on Pks after a 2-2 draw to advance to the second round play-in match for one of the final two MLS spots in the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup.

After both teams traded goals in the first half, and survived a wide open second half without any goals, the game finished with a roller coaster of emotion in the second overtime as United’s Daniel Woolard seemed to score the game winner with 9 minutes left only to see Philly’s Brian Carroll tie the match with barely 2 minutes left on the clock forcing penalty kicks to decide the winner.

Playing a mixture of reserves and starters, DC United started the match a bit shaky and was punished in the 18th minute as a long throw in by Philly’s Sheanon Williams was skimmed by Philly defender Danny Califf back to the far post where it fell right to the feet of an unmarked Carlos Ruiz, and the Guatemalan marksman easily finished under Bill Hamid for the first goal of the match.

However, DC got themselves back into the game with a timely goal by Josh Wolff seconds before the first half ended. Near the end of a very ragged first half by both teams, United earned a corner kick and Boskovic whipped the ball into the Philly penalty area where it ping ponged around and eventually fell to the far post where United’s Joseph Ngwenya and right back Brandon Barklage combined to poke the ball back across the goal mouth to a wide open Wolff to nod in powerfully off a Philly defender and into the back of the net.

With new life, Olsen brought in rookie forward Blake Brettschneider at the half for Wolff and almost immediately United began to look a lot more aggressive offensively, and the defense tightened up considerably after Dejan Jackovic was inserted in the 41st minute for an injured Rodrigo Bresesco, who was having another terrible night defensively up to that point.

United nearly took the lead in the 63rd minute when another tantalizing free kick by Boskovic found DC central defender Ethan White at the far post, but his wicked shot struck Brettschneider and skipped barely wide.

In the 75th minute, DC central midfielder Stephen King collected the ball nicely in midfield and fed Andy Najar bursting down the right side of the box where he ripped a shot/cross barely wide of the far post and just inches from Ngwenya crashing in on goal.

In the 78th, Najar fed Boskovic just outside the top of the area and the Montenegran clipped a lovely curling shot which would have snuck inside the near post if not for a spectacular save by Philly’s Fayd Mondragon to paw it away over the endline. On the ensuing corner kick, yet another excellent corner kick by Boskovic whipped achingly across the face of the goal, but incredibly went untouched through a scrum of players as another clear chance slipped away.

DC almost paid for their failure to score in the 85th minute as Philly’s Danny Mwanga collected a ball near the top of the area and crushed a wicked shot that forced a game saving dive from Hamid to smother the shot and prevent a rebound amid a swarm of Philly players in the box.

In a strange play just before the full time whistle, Philadelphia was reduced to 10 men when central defender Carlos Valdes was tossed for an absolutely unbelievable second yellow card. Valdes had apparently got away with a savage two footed tackle of United’s Fred (who would be forced to limp off the pitch and be replaced by Chris Pontius) which knocked the ball out of bounds. But as referee Andrew Chapin was indicating a DC throw in to restart play, Valdes, apparently not satisfied with merely getting away with the assault on Fred actually expected to get the throw in as well, got incensed and kicked the ball right off the stands earning him a trip to the showers.
With the man advantage, DC took almost complete control of the overtime period. Brettschneider blasted a shot off the post in the 100th minute. Then after a poor clearance by Philly, United regained control 30 seconds later and Andy Najar was sent in on goal, and only another exceptional sliding save by Mondragon coming out to confront DC’s Honduran winger kept the ball out of the net. Ngwenya also forced a solid save from Mondragon as well a few minutes later.

Finally in the 111th minute United scored what looked to be the winning goal as Najar whipped a ball all the way across the area to Woolard at the far post, and DC’s left back hammered a shot right into Pontius in the goalmouth, the ball fell to Pontius, but his shot was blocked by a Philly defender on the line, but again the ball fell fortunately for United as it bounced right to Woolard wide open for the easy finish into the open net.

There is no golden goal in US Open Cup play, so United was obliged to see out the final eight minutes or so. Unfortunately, DC took their foot off the gas and allowed Philly to creep back into the game. Sure enough, Philly earned a corner kick barely two minutes from time and the ball fell far post to an unlikely hero, former DC midfielder Brian Carroll who forced penalty kicks when he nodded the ball in off Hamid’s outstretched hand.

After Sebastion LeToux scored the opening kick for Philly and Pontius responded for DC, it all fell apart for the Union. Jake McInerney skied the ball over the bar and Roger Torres had a weak effort smother by Hamid, while Barklage and Najar scored for DC. After Kyle Nakazawa kept Philly alive, Boskovic clinched the game with a cool finish past Mondragon.

United will now face New England April 26th at 7:30 at the Maryland Soccerplex for their second play-in match for one of the final two MLS slots in the US Open Cup Finals.

D.C. UNITED: Hamid; Barklage, White, Brasesco (Jakovic 41′), Woolard; Najar, King, Fred (Pontius 89′), Boskovic; Wolff (C), Ngwenya
Unused substitutes: Brettschneider, Morsink, Simms, Shanoksy, Willis
PHILADELPHIA UNION: Mondragon (C), Harvey, Valdes, Califf, Williams (Mwanga 73′), Nakazawa, Carroll, M. Farfan, Daniel (Roger Torres 66′), Le Toux, Ruiz (McInerney 80′)
Unused substitutes: Holder, Richter, Pfeffer, Agorsor

DC United Takes on Philly Union in US Open Cup Play-in

For the third year in a row DC United has to win its way into the US Open Cup proper, but fortunately the Black and Red will be playing The Philadelphia Union at the Soccerplex in Boyd’s, Md. Only DC’s 16th straight home match in the oldest Cup tournament in the country.

Just about the only bright spot of United’s dismal past few years has been their amazing success, relative to their actual level of play in MLS, in this delightful little tournament. Since 2007, United’s Cup record is a 13-2, garnering the Dewar trophy given to the winner of the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup in 2008, and unfortunately losing in the final in 2009 and in the semi-finals last year, to Seattle and the Crew respectively.

One common thread though has been the incredible run of luck and determination that has allowed United to play all those matches on a home field, and that continues with this initial play-in match against the Union. Ironically, the last time United played an away match in this tournament, Nowak was the coach for DC as the team was bounced by Chicago in 2006. Nowak is also the only DC coach ever to lose a match at the Soccerplex, in 2005 to Dallas. However, Nowak now has that dratted anchovy Ruiz, who broke United’s hearts in overtime on that occasion in his team this time around.

But, enough history for the moment as United has to regroup from a couple hideous losses on the road the past two weekends, and it will be very interesting to see how seriously Ben Olsen will take this tournament, as well as how deep United really is given the likely players unavailable.

Traditionally, most MLS teams play mostly reserves in these type of matches, and it seems likely both Nowak and Olsen will stick to that policy. Indeed, given Nowak’s past history in this tournament with DC (Philly wasn’t invited last year due to being an expansion team with no history to base its qualifications), it will be interesting to see if Nowak takes this tournament seriously at all. For DC, Nowak lost in the first round in Richmond in 2004, lost in the quarters to Dallas in ’05, and lost to the Fire in the semis in ’06, arguably in none of those games did he play anywhere near any of his best players. He and Thomas Rongen are the only three time losers in this tournament in United’s history BTW, no other DC coach has three Open Cup losses on his resume.

Anyway, Olsen will certainly play some younger players, but who the veterans are that he sprinkles in will be very telling. Obviously, Kitchen will not play still being away with the U-20s, nor does it seem likely Charlie Davies (groin), Clyde Simms (calf), or Jed Zayner (hamstring) will play, although all of them seem to be pretty close to returning to action. Still, tough to see rushing them back for this match. Also, Chris Pontius and Marc Burch have played the lion’s share of the minutes lately, and would seem unlikely to start either given the league match with LA looming Saturday.

On the flip side, some young players who have probably earned some minutes start with goalie Bill Hamid, who recently signed a senior long term deal with the team. Also, Chris Korb and Ethan White seem likely to get some time. Korb has played very well in place of Zayner in league matches, while White has played well in the reserves so far. Then again, the abysmal play of Rodrigo Bresesco and Daniel Wollard has probably played their way back onto the scrubs bench, which means into this match, perhaps as punishment.

So, looking into my crystal ball, my money is on Hamid in goal, then Korb, White, Brasesco and Woolard (to be fair, back in his more natural left back position) across the defensive line, all of whom looking to earn their way into, or back into the conversation for the first team.

In midfield, Boskovic needs to build on his first half performance in Colorado, and put the second half behind him as well. Almost certainly Kurt Morsink will play for Simms, but I suspect McCarty gets the night off and Stephen King gets the chance to show what he can do in the middle. Maybe it’s Boskovic in there, but I think his future is as a left sided player, or he has no future at all, so he will play the left. On the right, Andy Najar, who just decided to play play for Honduras internationally, was held out for most of the Colorado match and has looked a bit out of sorts lately, so I think he gets the start there. Maybe Santino Quaranta gets rewarded for his goal and generally good play in Colorado, but I think Olsen would rather see if he can get Najar on track in a tournament where he excelled last year scoring a stunning game winning goal in OT to knock out RSL among other things.

The forward line will be interesting. Wolff and Ngwenya were held out of Colorado too for the most part, and Brettschneider did have a pretty good outing all things considered for his first MLS minutes. But, I think Santino gets a chance to see if he can keep his confidence growing with some time at forward and he will get the start with either Wolff or Ngwenya, to see what that partnership might bring to the table. Most likely Ngwenya as Wolff will be saved for LA for sure.

As for Nowak, who knows what he will do. I suspect he plays mostly reserves as I do not believe he takes this tournament as seriously as DC clearly has in lately, and he also expects all his players, especially reserves, to rise to the occasion when they get the call. So, I think DC’s ratio of veterans will be slightly higher, but we’ll see.

As for the history, well that is clearly on United’s side. DC has never lost a play-in match (4-0), is 9-1 in Open Cup games played at the Soccerplex, is 23-3 at home in this tournament in its history, and has made at least the quarterfinals 10 of the 13 times they have been entered into the Open Cup. However, when they are knocked out early, it is usually in their very first game where they get spanked ugly, Charleston in 1999, Richmond in 2004, and Harrisburg in 2007. All first match clangers, but all away matches too.

There you have it. All signs point to DC getting the job done against the Union tomorrow night. Should DC win, United will, of course, host their 17th straight Open Cup match against New England in the next round of qualifiers, likely April 26-27 or May 10-11. Should United advance past New England, they will not host the match, however, as the Houston KC winner is slated to host that final play-in match to enter the tournament proper starting in June.

Note: Some may argue, but I say if you’re playing in the Open Cup itself even in these early qualifiers. True, it is an MLS decision to open up the last two automatic qualifying spots to the winners of this little MLS mini tournament, but in my opinion if the match is played solely to determine the ability to play in the Open Cup, then you in fact are playing in the Open Cup itself. Everybody has to qualify in some form, so to say there are only 40 teams in the entire country “playing” in the “Open” Cup is ridiculous for me. My .02. There you go.

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