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United falls victim of non-handball call; lose 2-0 to Columbus

D.C. United fell victim to their own inability to finish chances as well as some very poor officiating in their 2-0 loss to Columbus tonight at Crew Stadium. Guillermo Barros Schelloto’s 57th minute goal was a direct result of a handball that referee Terry Vaughn somehow managed to miss despite getting a clear view of the play. Schelloto got hold of the ball after it hit the post and the rebound clearly bounced off the hand of Guille before he roofed the ball into the net.

While the call irked United to no end, it was their inability to finish numerous chances in the first half  that led to their ultimate demise. The match was very much a reminder of United’s early season struggles, particularly at home when they outplayed the opposition but could not make them pay with goals.  Chris Pontius had numerous shots over and wide of the goal but the best chance to score was when Adam Cristman broke through on a bad back pass from Eric Brunner and his lofted shot over the onrushing William Hesmer inched just over the bar.

United’s misery was compounded when defender Eric Brunner had an easy tap in goal in the 86th minute to finish off after a flurry of half-chances for United to tie the match late on. One bright spot in this disappointing evening was Troy Perkins’ penalty kick save on Steven Lenhart in stoppage time.

With the loss United ended their three-game unbeaten streak in MLS and dropped to 3-9-1 on the season. United will now travel to San Jose next weekend to take on the Earthquakes. That match will be live on ComcastSportsNet at 10:30pm EST

United holds on for impressive 1-1 draw at Toluca; Now must play waiting game

Chris Pontius’ 6th minute golazo gave D.C. United an early first half lead and United held on bravely through a dominating Toluca attack and conceded the equalizer in the 61st minute on a penalty conversion from substitute Israel Lopez.

United, playing with many regular starters either back home in Washington, D.C. or on the bench, survived an early onslaught from the home side in the first five minutes before Pontius’ strike from 30 yards silenced the crowd. Luciano Emilio won a 50-50 ball and it bounced into the path of Pontius who chested it forward and then unleashed a laser precise finish into the near side netting to give the Black and Red the early lead. Toluca, playing with a number of reserves themselves, finally figured out there was a match at hand and dominated for the next twenty minutes until United were finally able to gain some possession midway through the first half.

After the break Toluca continued their assault on goal but rarely threatened the ever aware Steve Cronin in net for United. He seemed sharp and on point all night long. United actually had an opportunity in the 58th minute to increase their lead. Substitute Rodney Wallace stole an errant pass in midfield and played a quick one-two with fellow rookie Pontius. The return pass hit Wallace in stride in the penalty area only to see his left-footed blast palmed over the bar by Toluca’s goalkeeper.

Just three minutes later the home side was level when United defender Lawson Vaughn awkwardly fell over Israel Lopez in the penalty area. The 35-year old easily beat Cronin and the match was level at 1-1. United wasn’t finished however and nearly regained the lead in the 63rd minute. Chris Pontius got loose down the right flank and sent a whipped in cross into the box where Devon McTavish’s diving header inched wide of the far post.

Toluca had a few more dangerous opportunities but Steve Cronin was up to the task and now United was wait until Thursday evening when Marathon travels to San Juan Jabloteh for the groups final match. Because of United’s draw, Marathon can only advance with a win due to losing their head-to-head tie-breaker with United.

D.C. United now travels back to town and will prepare for their final match at Kansas City on Saturday evening. United is currently in a four-way tie for the last playoff spot. Seven teams are still alive for the three remaining playoff positions.

United falls to San Jose 2-1 at RFK; In danger of not making playoffs for second year in a row

There used to be a time when D.C. United scored first, they most likely won that match. This is no longer the case as the San Jose Earthquakes scored twice in the second half to come from behind to beat United 2-1 at RFK Stadium this afternoon in front of 14, 375 disappointed fans. The loss, United’s second consecutive home loss in MLS, keeps United two points out of the playoff race. A win today would have seen the Black and Red leapfrog three teams into a comfortable position with three matches remaining in the season.

After going the first 11 MLS home matches without a loss this season, United has now coughed up two poor losses at the most important time of the season. Jaime Moreno scored a fantastic goal in the 26th minute to give the home side a deserved lead. However, as has been the case numerous times this season, United could not add to their lead and got to halftime holding the 1-0 margin. The goal came about from some nice and not often seen flank play. Ben Olsen received a ball on the left flank in the 26th minute and held possession and waited for the overlapping run from Chris Pontius. The rookie sent in a left-footed one-timer that Moreno expertly controlled with his right foot and then unleashed a left-footed blast underneath former United goalkeeper Andrew Webber. The goal was the Bolivian’s 129 goal, the all-time leader in MLS.

The second half saw the visitors come flying out of the gate and they should have tied the match in the 5oth minute when Ryan Johnson headed home a goal in a challenge with United goalkeeper Josh Wicks. Referee Baldomero Toledo inexplicably blew the play dead immediately when he saw Wicks crumple to the ground. Wicks left the match with an injury to his left shoulder and was replaced by Milos Kocic. It didn’t take long for the energized Quakes to finally equalize. In the 58th minute, United defender Julius James fouled Ryan Johnson 20 yards in front of goal with a bear hug. El Salvador’s National Team captain Ramon Sanchez stepped up and curled a beautiful free-kick into the near post upper 90 that gave Kocic no chance. San Jose increased their lead in the 73rd minute on a very dodgy piece of defending by Marc Burch. Burch, returning to the lineup after being out for three weeks, decided to try and body the ball off of onrushing San Jose attacker Arturo Alvarez. The speedy Salvadoran-American easily stripped the ball from Burch and his shot was deflected by Clyde Simms off the crossbar. The rebound found the head of the diving Ryan Johnson who easily dispatched the ball into the empty net to give the Quakes the game-winning goal.

United finally awoke from their second half slumber and should have equalized and gone ahead on numerous occasions. However, as has been the case too often this season, United couldn’t find the target when it mattered. Chris Pontius had two golden chances to equalize. In the 81st minute he latched onto a Santino Quaranta cross and headed straight into the ground and over the bar. Had he simply directed it to the far post, Webber would have had no chance at it. Just one minute later Pontius again was denied when his bicycle kick was cleared off the line by Ramiro Corrales. Finally in the 89th minute substitute Boyzzz Khumalo had his shot carom off the top of the crossbar and United was done with their chances at getting any points in this match.

The loss is a crippling blow for the Black and Red as they lost a glorious opportunity to jump into prime playoff positioning. United, who was off from league play last weekend, saw a number of other results in the league over the past two weeks go in favor of United and set them up with this great opportunity. It wasn’t to be and now United finds themselves in a position to almost have to win their last three matches to even have a chance at making the playoffs. Next up for United is their 5th match in group play for the CONCACAF Champions League this Wednesday against San Juan Jebloteh. A win in that match combined with a loss by Marathon against group leaders Toluca will guarantee United passage into the knockout phase next Spring.

United’s next league match is against fellow playoff hopefuls Chivas USA at RFK Stadium next Saturday evening.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

United Notes

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

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

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

United lets another one get away; draw 1-1 at Columbus

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.

 

United takes the deserved lead through a 33rd minute goal from Christian Gomez and rolls into halftime with a comfortable 1-0 lead.  United comes out of the locker room on fire and is hammering down on the Columbus goal only to see Crew goalkeeper Will Hesmer keep the Black and Red at bay. Then, somehow, you just knew it was going to happen. A defensive lapse by rookie midfielder Rodney Wallace allowed United killer Alejandro Moreno to pounce on a flicked on ball from Steven Lenhardt and calmly slot past a charging Josh Wicks to tie the match at 1-1.

It was Columbus’ only shot on goal the entire second half.

In a season that has seen it’s share of miracle comebacks, perhaps it’s just Murphy”s Law that is imposing itself on United in allowing yet another opponent to stay close and eventually catch United. This game wasn’t even close with United outshooting the home side by a 22 to 9 margin with 11 of United’s shots on target opposed to only 3 on frame for the Champions of MLS.

United’s goal came about from a determined attack that saw no less than 7 United players involved before Gomez slotted past Hesmer in the 33rd minute. The play started in midfield when Gomez’s pass was inadvertantly deflected by teamate Chris Pontius towards the Crew goal. Ange N’Silu pressured defender Andy Iro and forced him into Will Hesmer who’s hurried clearance fell to Clyde Simms. Simms’ shot was well saved by Hesmer and the rebound found it’s way to the right wing. N’Silu crossed immediately to the back post where Pontius cleverly headed back towards the penalty spot. The ball deflected off Crew defender Danny O’Rourke and right into the path of Gomez who easily beat Hesmer to give United the 1-0 lead.

After the break United poured on the pressure and somehow managed to not take the lead. But in true United fashion this season, their inattentiveness cost them three points in the 59th minute. Substitute midfielder Fred was slow to close down a rather harmless cross by Emmanuel Ekpo from the left flank. The ball was headed on by Lenhardt to the shockingly wide open Moreno who took one touch and then slotted underneath Josh Wicks for the final goal of the game. The goal could have been prevented had Rodney Wallace backtracked and gotten goal side of Moreno. When Wallace realized he had allowed Moreno too much space, it was too late to close before the Venezuelan poached another goal against United.

United will now have another two week break before returning to MLS action on July 18th at home versus the Colorado Rapids. In the meantime they will take on the Harrisburg City Islanders (USL II) on Tuesday evening in the quarterfinals of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup at the Maryland SoccerPlex in Germantown, MD. The match starts at 7:30pm

 

United Notes

– United was missing four starters tonight. Jaime Moreno and Luciano Emilio through injury and Santino Quaranta (USA) and Dejan Jakovic (Canada) for Gold Cup duty. Moreno and Emilio will most probably be ready for their next match on July 18th. Both of them will miss the Open Cup quarterfinal on Tuesday

– Ben Olsen played his first full 90 minute match since returning from injury. Gomez also went the full 90.

– Greg Janicki had a solid match in place of Jakovic

– Columbus was without two of their top stars as Chad Marshall and Robbie Rogers were both at the Gold Cup with the USA

United gets pounded 3-0 in Colorado

D.C. United easily had their worst performance in the season as they got steamrolled 3-0 tonight by the Colorado Rapids in Commerce City, Colorado in front of 11,416 fans at Dicks Sporting Goods Park. United is now 0-3 at Dicks since it opened in 2007 and is winless in Colorado since the turn of the century. It seemed pretty obvious that though United played with energy, it just didn’t seem to have their legs tonight. “I think I underestimated how much of a toll that last game took on us. If I were to do it again, I’d probably make wholesale changes and get some of the other guys out,” said Head coach Tom Soehn after the match.

Omar Cummings was the man of the match with two goals and an assist as he was the thorn in the side of a United defense that now all of a sudden is showing signs of their 2008 form when they were the second worst defense in MLS. United has given up six goals in their past two road matches and must find a way to stop the goals from leaking.  Tom Soehn didn’t hold back on his feelings towards his defense tonight, “They were just straight giveaways. That part was disappointing because those guys who made those mistakes were fresh.”

Cummings got the goalfest started in the 11th minute when he beat Greg Janicki for pace down the left flank and when Janicki slid to try and tackle the ball away, the Jamaican easily hopped over the defender and curled a beautiful shot past the helpless Josh Wicks in goal. Janicki got his first start for United since the opening match of the season at Los Angeles. Another playing making his first start since joining D.C. United was left back Avery John. He was the goat on the second goal that came right at the stroke of halftime. John played a backpass into United’s half of the field. The problem was there were no United defenders in sight and Cummings ghosted in and rounded Wicks and sent it just past the retreating Dejan Jakovic to give the Rapids a 2-0 lead at the break.

Coming out of the locker room Tom Soehn made a change and brought in Boyzzz Khumalo  for Janicki and United went back to their preferred 3-5-2 formation after starting the match in a 4-4-2. However, it was yet another mistake from United’s defense that put the final nail in the coffin for the Black and Red on this night. Jordan Harvey’s seemingly harmless ball over the top of the defense fell right to the foot of the normally reliable Jakovic. His mis-trap allowed that sliver of space for Cummings to get to the ball. Cummings held off Jakovic long enough to get to the endline and center the ball to the penalty spot for a wide open Colin Clarke to score past Wicks who did well enough to get his hand on the shot before it went into the side netting.

At this point it was clear that United was a beaten team but that didn’t stop them from pressing forward and trying to make the scoreline respectable. Chris Ponitus’ 54th minute header was excellently saved by Matt Pickens. In the 67th minute Christian Gomez’ redirected shot was somehow palmed out by Pickens and that essentially ended things for United on the night.

United will now have two weeks off of MLS play and will return at Columbus on July 4th. United will also play the Ocean City Barons in the U.S. Open Cup on June 30th at the Germantown SoccerPlex.

United does it again, pulling off 3-3 comeback in Seattle

A late own-goal courtesy of Seattle defender Tyrone Marshall gave United an improbable 3-3 draw Wednesday night in Seattle, Washington. United battled back from 3-1 second half defecit to send home a demoralized crowd of 29,104 at Qwest Field. Second half substitute Christian Gomez scored in the 63rd minute to draw United back to within a goal at 3-2 and United pressed forward in the open match and got the equalizer in the 87th minute thanks to Marshall.

 

Chris Pontius, who scored the games opening goal in the 34th minute, whipped in a cross from the left flank that Santino Quaranta just managed to get a slight touch to. That touch put Marshall in a no-win situation as the ball caromed off his head and past Kasey Keller to stun the sell-out crowd. United has now completed it’s fifth comeback late in the match to salvage a result that seemed very much in doubt considering the overall poor defensive effort from the Black and Red.

United’s defense was torn apart on numerous occasions and if not for the heroic efforts of Josh Wicks in goal, United very well may have lost this game by a large margin. Wicks made point blank saves in the second half on Fredy Montero, Freddie Ljunberg and Sebastian Le Toux to keep United in the match after they were trailing 2-1 at the intermission.

 

United took the lead against the run of play in the 36th minute when Quaranta sent in a diagonal ball over the defense to the back post where Pontius’ one-time volley shot past Kasey Keller. The lead didn’t last very long though when in the 38th minute Seattle midfielder Osvaldo Alonso uncorked a 30-yard Goal of the Year candidate that Wicks did very well to get a hand to before it blew past him into the upper 90. Seattle fed off the energized crowed and doubled their lead after United were guilty of sloppy defending. Dejan Jakovic won the ball on the left flank and then cheaply gave the ball away to set off the counter that gave Seattle the 2-1 lead in the 45 minute. Jakovic’ casual giveaway led to Nate Jaqua slipping behind United’s defense and his seemingly weak shot was redirected by Marc Burch past the helpless Wicks and Seattle had all the momentum heading into the locker room.

 

The beginning of second half saw the defensive miscues continue as Jakovic badly mis-played a bouncing ball that allowed Montero in alone on Wicks but the big man came up with the save. It was yet another mind-numbingly bad play by United that got Seattle a 3-1 lead in the 57th minute. Luciano Emilio, showing all the rust of his one-week suspension for a red card, made a horrific backpass right to Fredy Montero who took off towards goal and managed to juke and jive his way into the box and curled a left-footed beauty through a screen of March Burch and into the far side netting.

 

In spite of their worst defensive effort of the season, United drew on their ability to know that even facing a two-goal deficit, they still had a chance. Gomez got it started when he got onto a loose ball and pushed towards the penalty area and hit a laser that beat Keller low and to his right to pull United back. Seattle coach Sigi Schmid felt relatively comfortable in pulling his three most dangerous attacking players in Montero, Ljunberg and Jaqua and it came back to bite him as United got that late equalizer that no doubt sent the calls of second-guessing towards the coach.

 

Although United felt very fortunate to get a result from this match, it has to give the team some confidence in going forward on Saturday night against the Colorado Rapids in Commerce, Colorado. United has lost both of their matches at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park and has had a terrible record overall in the Mile High City through their history. The match will be live on ComcastSportsnet at 9:30 pm EST

 

 

United Notes

 

– As has been mentioned numerous times already by various people, the Seattle Sounders FC experience simply has to be witnessed in person. Television does not do the atmosphere justice and that is only half the story. 1st Avenue in downtown Seattle is about as perfect a soccer experience that one can witness. Driving to the stadium you see countless bars absolutely packed with Seattle supporters in their green X-Box shirts and scarves and the streets flooded with passion and pride. It was an amazing thing to witness.

 

– Ben Olsen was on the 18- man roster and he’ll probably figure prominently in the match in Colorado on Saturday.

 

 

 

 

Mid-Season Musings

While United is not quite at the halfway mark of the season, I am taking this opportunity to look at what has gone right and what needs improving as they head towards the tough part of the season during the summer months. United is still very much a work in progress in trying to balance a team that is very old at the top of the team and very young at the bottom. How this meshes together will be the ultimate tell on how United will do this season

Good Starts

With very few exceptions through 13 MLS matches, United has taken the opening 45 minutes to their respective opponents. While the first half tally’s will read an 8-4 goals advantage for United, it really doesn’t tell the whole story. On the positive side of things it shows that United are coming out ready to play in most of these matches. With the exception of United trailing Chivas USA 2-0 at the half earlier this season, they have been nearly unscored upon surrendering only two goals. United have gone to the locker room with the lead in 7 of their 13 matches to date. However, they have only won two of them. Which leads to…  

Poor Finishes

I know what you’re saying. “But United had all those miracle comebacks. How is that poor finishing?”. Good question. It’s poor finishes in the sense that United have let their opponents off the hook too many times with poor finishing and criminal mistakes with little to no pressure around. It has not been very often that an opponent has simply taken the match to United this season. If anything, it’s a question of simply having the ability to finish off matches. Take your chances and leave no doubt. United hasn’t done this very well this season and thus the miracle finishes and close losses. United has had a two-goal lead for only 18 minutes total this season. The rest of the time they are either tied, ahead by one goal or trailing by one goal. United also needs to tidy up their mistakes in the second half. 13 of the 17 goals allowed have come in the second half and teams feel that if they can simply contain United and stay close, they will have a chance to get back into matches, which is exactly what has transpired this season.

I Believe in Miracles

What can you say about United’s unprecedented one month stretch from April 17th to May 16th when they pulled four results out of the fire? In all four of those matches, United were within a whisker of losing before getting late help via Ben Olsen (90th minute header to draw 1-1 with New England), Luciano Emilio and Chris Pontius (goals after stoppage time in a 3-2 win at New York), Jaime Moreno and Pontius(Moreno with PK in stoppage time and Pontius with 85th minute equalizer only to see TFC come down and re-take the lead a minute later) and finally Emilio and Santino Quaranta (77th and 86th minute goals in two-goal comeback at league leaders Chivas USA).  You could go back through the annals of United history and only find a handful of comebacks by United that rival that one month stretch of magic from the Black and Red.

Defensive Improvement

As compared to last season, United is miles ahead in terms of goals allowed. They’ve given up 17 goals in 13 matches and have 3 league shutouts, including two in their last three matches. The addition of central defender Dejan Jakovic has been more than advertised. His calmness on the ball, his very good passing ability and his closing speed are all great additions to a United defense that was pathetic last season. Bryan Namoff has been his usual stellar self and has taken it upon himself to marshall the back line from his right back position. Throw in the added improvement to his offensive game and he is having an all-league type of season. Marc Burch has been the real wild card here. Recent weeks has shown a great improvement on the defensive side of the ball and a discipline to stay home and defend first, which had never really been seen before. However, his early season form was spotty at best and only until United made the move to bring in veteran defender Avery John had we really seen an improvement in Burch’ play. John will add some much needed grit and leadership to the United back line should any injuries or suspensions rear it’s ugly head. Central defender Greg Janicki has been solid in limited time but the emergence of Jakovic has relegated him to late game mop up duty. Devon McTavish has been a non-factor this season will only a limited amount of appearances due to the good play from both the defensive corps and the midfield.

As for the goalkeeping position, it looks like Josh Wicks has stepped up to the #1 spot. Two shutouts in three matches (with game-saving stops in both shutouts) is exactly what the team has been looking for since Troy Perkins’ abrupt signing overseas before last season. Louis Crayton did not take advantage of his being the #1 coming into the season and his poor play finally culminated in him being dropped off the  18 man game-day roster for the past 5 matches (4 league and 1 Open Cup). Crayton’s hefty contract (reportedly $180,000 a year) is simply too much for a third string keeper. Come to think of it, it might be too much for a #1 in this league.

Milos Kocic is solidly in the #2 spot and might be the best keeper on the team but give credit where credit is due with Wicks. He has proven lately that he is capable of the job. Most people’s opinion of Wicks was formed from his play last season for the Galaxy. We have to remember that the Galaxy in 08′ was one of the worst defensive teams in MLS history and Iker Casillas would have looked bad playing between the pipes for the Galaxy. Wicks didn’t help his cause with a few blunders early on this season in terms of ball handling and positioning, but he seems to have risen in confidence as has his defenders in front of him.

Finally, A Draft That Pays Off

One of the loudest criticisms of United’s front office in recent seasons has been their lack of picks and subsequent lack of production from any young player they bring to the team. If it wasn’t trading picks away for older players or for allocation money, it was simply making bad draft picks. All that has appeared to have changed for United this season. Rodney Wallace (#6 pick in SuperDraft) and Chris Pontius (#7 pick) have been superlative through their first run through MLS. Wallace (2 goals, 3 assists) and Pontius (3 goals, 2 assists – 5 goals, 3 assists in all competitions) have given United an injection of speed, aggression andpassion that has rarely been seen around RFK for a long time. It doesn’t end with those two either. All of their draft picks have made an impact. 2ndRound pick goalkeeper Milos Kocic has stepped up to the #2 position ahead of Louis Crayton and has a win and two draws in all competitions. United’s other draftpick, 4th rounder Brandon Barklage has only managed to score in both of his U.S. Open Cup appearances and has shown a particular hunger that reminds a lot of people of a very young version of Ben Olsen in terms of tenacity and energy. This particular draft class could go down as the single best class United has ever produced rivaled only by the 2001 class that included Ryan Nelsen, Bryan Namoff and Santino Quaranta.

Rotation, Rotation, Rotation

Head coach Tom Soehn is bearing the fruits of having a deep roster. Not only has his team been relatively healthy (Olsen being the only long-term injury and it hasn’t been THAT long) but getting productive minutes from thier rookies has made United easily the deepest team in MLS to this point. How many other teams can bring players like Moreno and Gomez off the bench into the second half of matches? How about Fred, Emilio, Quaranta, Pontius and Wallace? Not too many. United has done that in recent weeks. Quite the luxury if you ask me.

While there are certainly critics of rotating too many players, it bears reminding of the horror show that was last season that saw Soehn field three reserve teams for their last 3 CONCACAF Champions League group matches last September. Nothing like trotting out Craig Thompson, Ryan Miller and James Thorpe as opposed to Moreno, Gomez and Fred.

The added benefit of rotating players (specifically the older gentlemen) is that United just might have a team that won’t fall flat on it’s face in October when the real pressure hits. It definitely will help that United isn’t playing in 47 different competitions like last season. Therefore I feel that if United can stay relatively injury-free for the remainder of 2009, there is no reason not to expect a good effort advancement in the  MLS Cup playoffs and in the CONCACAF Champions League group stage later this summer.

By the time late September rolls around, I do feel that Soehn will finally pick his best X1 and ride that team through the playoffs. I would expect to see the Moreno, Gomez, Fred, Olsen andEmilio getting the majority of minutes with Pontius, Wallace and Andrew Jacobson ready, willing and able to step in should the need arise.

Overall Assessment

Obviously with only 2 losses in 13 matches so far this season, it’s a great improvement over the 7 losses at this time last season. However, a closer look at the records would reveal that United is only 3 points ahead of last seasons pace. It’s plain to see though that this team has a chemistry that was non-existent last season and quite simply they have better players with the additions of Pontius, Wallace, Olsen, Wicks and Jacobson. United is also on the verge of taking over first place in a highly competitive Eastern Conference should they win their home match versus Chicago this weekend. I feel it’s only a matter of time before United can get past letting teams stay close to them and start to really gel as the summer heats up.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Photos: Martin Fernandez

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

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

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

United Notes

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

Moreno’s penalty follows United’s early season script in wild 3-3 draw at RFK

Let’s see if this sounds familiar to anyone.

Take the lead after commanding most, if not all of the play in the first half. Give up the tying goal against the run of play, fall behind and then either defy the odds and score late to win or simply just score the tying goal in stoppage time to save your bacon.

That has seemingly been the script for United in the first third of this MLS season. Jaime Moreno’s 92nd minute penalty conversion was the final goal in  a wild and wacky 3-3 draw with visiting Toronto FC in front of 15,652 spectators at RFK Stadium tonight. The goal was necessary because Dwayne De Rosario scored a goal of the year candidate in the 87th minute to give Toronto the shock 3-2 lead. Undaunted, United pressed forward for the equalizer and were correctly awarded a penalty when a ball was served into the box only to see Toronto captain Jim Brennan reach out his arm to deflect the ball away. Referee Baldomero Toledo did not hesitate to point to the spot and MLS’ all-time goal scoring leader roofed his kick past Stefan Frei to send RFK into hysteria.

The beginning of the match had a more mellow tone as United commanded the ball and rarely allowed Toronto to get across midfield much less string a pair of passes together. United’s movement off the ball and fluidity in attack was rewarded in the 9th minute when Ange N’Silu scored his first ever MLS goal. The goal wasn’t the prettiest in United history but it did the job. Devon McTavish, one of a stunning eight changes from Wednesday nights 1-1 draw in Kansas City, found his way down the left flank and crossed dangerously into the box forcing a punchout from Frei. United midfielder Fred quickly pounced on the ball and headed it to an open Rodney Wallace who’s theatrical side-volley attempt whiffed except for a slight touch that brought it back into the path of Fred. Fred quickly shuttled the ball to his right to an open N’Silu who took a controlling touch before scooping the ball past Frei for a 1-0 lead.

United then seemed to drop off their high pressure and allowed the visitors back into the match. Although Toronto didn’t register a shot on goal in the first 45 minutes, they did test goalkeeper Milos Kocic with a number of crosses that the Serbian easily controlled. United seemed to score in the 43rd minute when Rodney Wallace stripped Adrian Serioux in midfield and sped towards the top of the penalty area. With plenty of options the rookie from the University of Maryland slipped a ball behind the TFC defense for Christian Gomez who slotted easily past Frei only for the play to be ruled offside.

After the break N’Silu’s angled drive was saved by Frei in the 52nd minute and resulting long ball from Frei caused all kinds of problems for United’s defense. The seemingly harmless kick was allowed to bounce at the top of the goal area by Dejan Jakovic in an attempt to shield De Rosario from the advancing Kocic. Confusion reigned at that point and the inexperienced goalkeeper hesitated and gave De Rosario the chance to slip in and flip the ball over United’s keeper for the game-tying goal. The goal seemed to stun United as they had seemingly been in complete control of the match. In the 63rd minute a questionable free kick was awarded to Toronto on the right flank and the resulting free kick was headed into the far side netting by Adrian Serioux to give Toronto a suprising 2-1 lead.

United countered by bringing on substitutes Santino Quaranta, Jaime Moreno and Chris Pontius to try and salvage the match. United appeared to do just that in the 86th minute with a beautifully set up goal that had the magic hand of Jaime Moreno all over it. Rodney Wallace, playing his best match as a professional, got in behind Marvell Wynne and sent a ball back towards the penalty spot and the onrushing Moreno. Moreno then pulled off a classic dummy move and rookie Chris Pontius roofed the pass for the equalizing goal.

As the fans at RFK were celebrating the goal, the visitors took advantage of a United turnover in an attempt to grab the game-winner. De Rosario latched onto the ball at midfield and took off towards United’s goal with the defense in retreat. Instead of choosing to tactically foul to stop the counter attack, United defender Bryan Namoff took a half hearted lunge at the ball and De Ro easily deked to the inside and then curled a beautiful shot from 22 yards past the helpless Kocic.

A United team from seasons past might have just packed it in and felt sorry for themselves but it’s clear that this seasons team is putting together a special season and they went to the well once again and somehow managed to pull out another result when it didn’t seem possible.

United Notes

  • Ben Olsen and Andrew Jacobsen were rested in this match. Olsen made the 18 man team sheet while Jacobsen didn’t.
  • Louis Crayton sat his second consecutive league match at home in favor of Kocic. Is something brewing here?
  • United scored the first goal for the 8th time in 9 matches this season. Their record in those matches is 2-1-5.
  • United has surrendered 12  of their 13 goals allowed in the second half.


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