Seis a Cuatro: Match Gallery

Despite falling behind 2-0 within the first 21 minutes of the match, D.C. United defeated Real Salt Lake 6-4 in a wild game at RFK Stadium in Washington D.C. The Black and Red further cemented their lead atop the Eastern Conference with their seventh come-from-behind win on the season.  Photos: Martin Fernandez.

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United’s 5-goal second half key their 6-4 win over Real Salt Lake

Washington, D.C., August 1, 2015 – D.C. United scored five second-half goals on their way to an historic 6-4 win this evening over Real Salt Lake at RFK Stadium.

Chris Rolfe (above, photo: Martin Fernandez) led the way with two goals for the Black and Red as United (12-7-5, 41 points) further cemented their lead atop the Eastern Conference with their mind-boggling seventh come-from-behind win on the season. Just like last week United were behind by a goal inside of 90 seconds. Joao Plata scored through a thicket of players to the far post to put the visitors up 1-0.

With visions of last week’s 2-0 deficit against the Philadelphia Union streaming through their heads, United couldn’t believe they were reliving history. With a special emphasis on better starts in training all week, it was inconceivable to repeat their mistake from a week prior. Even worse, they fell behind by 2-0 in the 21st minute when Arundel High School’s very own Kyle Beckerman doubled the advantage with his long-range bomb off the far post.

Normally this would be enough for most teams to see their way to an unexpected loss but this version of D.C. United is a completely unique mystery at times. Chris Rolfe began the rally with some great individual work in stealing the ball of the feet of “All-Star” Tony Beltran and bending a wicked shot to the far post in the 42nd minute to give United some semblance of belief that they can pull off another two-goal rally for the second consecutive week.

After the break all Hell broke loose as both teams combined to score seven goals. Rolfe stepped up to convert a penalty kick after Bobby Boswell was wrestled to the ground in the penalty area by an RSL defender. Referee Boldomero Toledo pointed to the spot and Rolfe roofed his spot kick for his team-leading 8th goal of the season. Just five minutes later United claimed their first lead of the night when defender Taylor Kemp unleashed a rocket from 23 yards away that gave RSL goalkeeper Jeff Antinella no hope of stopping.

Not to be undone however the visitors came right back and leveled the match at 3-3 in the 62nd minute when RSL defender Aaron Maund out dueled Steve Birnbaum inside the goal box and headed in a Javier Morales free kick to the right of United goalkeeper Andrew Dykstra.

The goals were now coming thick and fast and United once again took the lead inside of 60 seconds when Fabian Espindola finally capped off a wild sequence in front of goal. The play started when Alvaro Saborio received the ball deep in the penalty area and then the former RSL man completely juked Maund to the ground and curled a goal-bound shot to the far post. However Antinella got a fingertip to the ball to keep it out when mad scramble in front of the open goal at the far post resulted in an Espindola last gasp touch to push the ball over the goal line.

Incredibly though RSL came back to tie the score in the 68th minute when Morales found Abdoulie Mansally on the far post and the former striker-now defender embraced his forward roots and roofed a shot from a tight angle over the head of Dykstra to tie the match at 4-4.

With the crowd of 17, 288 in stunned disbelief in what they were witnessing, United turned it up a few notches and put the game away for good in the 79th minute. United had won a corner kick opportunity after a brilliant one-two display from Saborio and Espindola as they split open the RSL defense with a series of moves that had the stadium buzzing. With RSL a bit unsettled, they failed to pay attention to Kemp who received the quick pass from Espindola’s corner and then sent in one of his now textbook crosses that met the head of Perry Kitchen to easily beat Antinella for his third goal of the season and the eventual game-winning goal.

With RSL now pushing forward in hopes of an equalizer, and who could blame them considering how the crazy match was unfolding, it was United’s best player on the night Nick DeLeon saving the best for last. DeLeon, flush with confidence after his goal last week snapped a year-long drought, unleashed a left-footed curling blast into the far side netting from 22 yards in the 85th minute that sent the stadium into delirium. Not only was this the best goal of DeLeon’s career, it was arguably his most influential performance since his game-winning goal to eliminate Red Bull from the 2012 playoffs.

United easily saw out the remaining minutes of what can only be classified as one of the most entertaining games in the 60-year history of RFK Stadium. This game will go on the short list right beside the 1997 MLS Cup win over the Colorado Rapids and the 2004 Eastern Conference Final win over the New England Revolution on penalty kicks that vaulted United to the last of their four MLS Cup titles.

Can this game signify something similar? How could anyone know the answer to that but this club this season are defying all the odds and it could very well be a possibility come this December.

DC host suddenly relevant Real Salt Lake

Some home cooking against Philly snapped DC back on track while a listless RSL suddenly looks a lot more relevant after a couple of solid wins at home over Houston and Kansas City.

To say this summer has been a bit under the weather for DC is perhaps an understatement considering their torrid start to the season. Recently reeling from last minute losses and baffling mistakes United has had to rely on the cushion they built up earlier to retain their handle on the East until a massive morale boosting comeback win over the Philadelphia Union after a shocking opening four minutes. RSL has had a much different journey so far, a desultory 2-2-5 start to the season has morphed into a 3-5-3 record since then until a couple big wins at home has suddenly shot them into respectability again. DC has relied on their tried and true 4-4-2 to help keep the ship above the waves while dealing with crucial injuries and suspensions, while RSL has revamped their vaunted 4-4-2 diamond into a much less reliable 4-3-3 which has only recently begun to gel.

Interesting to note that perhaps the biggest loser in RSL’s transition to three forwards has been Costa Rican target man Alvaro Saborio and deemed expendable he was shipped off to DC last week in return for the very talented but somewhat fragile Luis Silva. The two principles in this recent trade will face each other for the first time barely a week later. Well, they would if the oft injured Silva was healthy but he’s not. Adding another twist to this matchup is DC MVP Fabian Espindola being reunited with Saborio who was his strike partner in RSL for 3 years. To be sure, DC is a much different team than those RSL teams from 2010-2012, but both players should be well motivated for revenge on the team that deemed them expendable for guys like Joao Plata, Sebastian Jaime and Devin Sandoval.

Both teams are a bit banged up with RSL’s defense being hideously thin while DC is surviving on their fairly impressive depth. DC is without Eddie Johnson (essentially retired at this point), Chris Pontius (calf), Sean Franklin (achilles tendinitis), and Bill Hamid (hand and knee surgeries) while RSL’s offense has recently gotten healthier with the return of Joao Plata, but their defense still lacks former defender of the year, Jamison Olave (Quad), Chris Schuler (knee), dynamic left back Demar Philiips (groin), and perennially unrecognized goalkeeper of the year Nick Rimando (knee bruise). However, both teams are well rested and should be able to start the lineups that have seen them surge back into form recently.

For DC, I fully expect coach Ben Olsen to start the exact same XI from the Philly win, which means a repeat lineup for only the second time this season by the way. So Saborio and Espindola as forwards supported by Chris Rolfe, Davy Arnaud, Perry Kitchen, and Nick DeLeon in midfield. The backline will consist of Taylor Kemp, Steve Birnbaum, Bobby Boswell, and Chris Korb in front of the brewer Andrew Dykstra in goal. Now perhaps Kofi Opare gets the nod over the suddenly suspect Birnbaum or maybe there is a rare Markus Halsti sighting, but I doubt it. Olsen is pretty reliable with sticking with his guns particularly when they chalk up points.

RSL is a bit more tricky. No doubt RSL coach Jeff Cassar sticks to his 4-3-3 as he appears ready to sink or swim on that formation and the jury is still out on whether anyone tosses him a job preserver on that one yet. However, he has some options along all three lines as he really hasn’t hit on a great mix just yet. For sure, Devin Sandoval will be the center forward and Joao Plata starts as a wing forward, but whether it’s Sebastian Jaime or Olmes Garcia as the other wing is a coin flip. Same with midfield. No doubt Javier Morales and Kyle Beckerman are two of the three, but whether it’s Luis Gil, Luke Mulholland or John Stertzer is a bit up in the air. Gil is the more talented, but Mulholland or Stertzer provides MUCH better balance to that trio. Even as thin as they are on defense, Cassar has another devil if you do choice to make there. Tony Beltran and Abdoulie Mansally are the sure starters on the outside and Aaron Maund will play a central role, but his partner in central defense could either be Salvadoran Elias Vasquez or impressive rookie Justen Glad. Vasquez has the much bigger pedigree and obvious skills, but Glad has surprisingly been the more effective player. There’s no doubt Jeff Attinella plays in goal though as he is the unquestioned backup to St. Nick.

So, looking at the matchups and tactics this game will be interesting as DC’s 4-4-2 should be able to frustrate RSL’s 4-3-3 on paper alone. Indeed the 4-4-2 is designed to create numbers advantages up the middle to both thwart the “creative” player advantage as well as unbalance the opposing defense with wide play. So, if Barcelona’s 4-3-3 plays Chelsea’s 4-4-2, it’s a matter of attrition and key plays and much to the dismay of the world the stifling 4-4-2 seems to win out more often than not. However, DC does not have the difference makers Chelsea has and RSL certainly doesn’t have the attacking talent of Barca. DC tends to cede possession and rely on counter attacks, while RSL seeks to dictate the pace of the game and pressure high to keep the ball in the other team’s end looking for ball movement to create holes to exploit.

Looking at it that way, the matchups become a lot more crucial. DC needs to keep the pressure going wide down both sides to force RSL apart both to pry them open and to keep them from being close enough for their quick passing to shred DC’s somewhat slow and extremely reactive defense. If DC can keep Korb and Kemp upfield forcing Mulholland or Gil, and even Plata and Jaime or Garcia back, RSL will be reduced to hoping for the odd bit of brilliance from Morales or a DC mistake to even score anything at all. However, if RSL can keep Mulholland and Gil or Stertzer high up the field pinning Arnaud and Kitchen back as well as DC’s wide players, United will be in trouble. That said, Espindola and Rolfe are a couple of the most vicious counter attackers the league has ever seen and if Saborio occupies RSL’s weak central defenders enough to knock down balls to DC attackers coming from deep, or simply keeps them on the back foot allowing Espy and Rolfe the room to dissect them like frogs, DC could cede possession and still win 4-0. That’s if the game is played straight up, if Cassar gets tricky and adjusts back to their old diamond with Beckerman sitting in front of the back line, maybe they fare better, but no matter how you slice it DC has the tactical and matchup advantages in this one. (knock wood!)

On top of that, DC is undefeated against RSL in RFK. That’s right RSL has never won in DC and there’s been some cracking wins over the years too. Gallardo’s wicked inch perfect volley and DeRo’s first half hat trick come to mind right away, both 4-1 wins. DC is 5-0-3 outscoring RSL 17 to 5 in RFK since they entered the league in 2007. (That’s only fair as DC hasn’t won in Salt Lake since Freddy scored the winner in 2007 by the way.) Obviously, DC has been light’s out at home lately with an 8-1-3 record so far this year. The only loss since last June was to Giovinco although it’s important to note that DC also hasn’t shut out anyone at home since the Crew in early May and has given up 2 goals 2 of their last 3 in RFK (the Philly win and the TFC loss) still, DC has outscored visitors by a healthy 21-12 goal margin. RSL on the other hand is a horrific 2-6-2 on the road being outscored 16-6 which is made even worse when you consider they went 1-0-2 to start their road campaign. They’ve been 1-6-0 since outscored 11-3 since their last road win in Chicago in early May.

So there you have it. DC has every advantage on paper and should prevail as long as the soccer gods keep their noses out of it. We’ll see. RSL is the far more desperate team and that sometimes skews the results. DC leads the East comfortably by 7 points and shouldn’t be too ruffled by RSL’s visit especially considering their road record. RSL on the other hand is in a right dogfight in the West simply to remain relevant now that they have come within sight of the playoffs. A win would see them above the playoff line depending on other results, but a desperately needed 3 points to be sure. Still, you gotta go with the magic of a Ben Olsen led team in RFK. Seems like it takes more to beat DC in their house these past couple years.

Back-to-back losses to start busy August foreshadows potential trouble ahead

On the heels of a perfect July for D.C. United (4 wins, no losses)  and seemingly impossible thoughts of challenging for the Supporters Shield , United has come back down to Earth with a mighty thud after poor back-to-back performances on the road in Houston and Sandy, Utah.

United has yet to win in either Houston (Robertson Stadium or BBVA Compass Stadium) or in Sandy (Rio Tinto Stadium) in league play, although United did pull off an improbable 1-0 U.S. Open Cup final last October at Rio Tinto.

Point being is that the optimism that had been building all season for United’s incredible turnaround from the single-worst MLS season in the history of MLS last year seems to have taken a bit of a hit after this tough two-week trip out West.

First off was the stoppage-time goal allowed by United in Houston to deny United a badly needed point. That disappointment was followed by a thorough 3-0 thrashing at the hands of Real Salt Lake this past Saturday night. Bill Hamid had three goals fly by him before he could even register a save for crying out loud.

Granted, flat performances like the one this past weekend have been few and far between this season, especially when they seemed to occur on a week-to-week basis just 12 months ago. However the wounds are still fresh from that craptacular season in 2013 and with it follows some worry about the rest of the month for United.

Before we take a look at the murderers row of matches still awaiting United in August, we have to objectively look back at first 20 games prior to these last two losses.

Home Cooking – 12 of United’s first 20 matches this season came at RFK Stadium. For a team coming off a disastrous 2013, this was certainly welcome news to Ben Olsen and his staff when the 2014 schedule was announced.

Full credit goes to United for taking 24 out of 36 available points in that span (7 wins, 2 losses and 3 draws) but it only leaves United with 5 of their remaining 14 matches at RFK

Road Good/Road Bad – To be fair, United and Sporting KC were the only teams in MLS with winning road records before the two recent road losses. A closer look at the schedule see’s only one win against a team on the road in a current playoff position (2-1 win in Toronto on July 5th) and overall (including home games) only 5 wins out of their 11 have come from teams currently in a playoff position.

The Future – United does have a rare home game in August up next against  the reeling Colorado Rapids this Sunday night at RFK. This is a MUST WIN considering what is coming down the pike.

Now the tough part –  After hosting Waterhouse FC on Wednesday, August 20th at RFK to open United’s CONCACAF Champions league group play, the Black-and-Red’s next two road matches are trips to Sporting KC on August 23rd and the Los Angeles Galaxy on August 27th  (- that’s about as hard a Saturday-Wednesday road trip any team can take – not exactly places teams go to break road losing streaks)

To wrap up an almost impossible month of play with an admittedly thin squad, United will host bitter rivals New York Red Bulls on national television on Sunday, July 31st at 3pm.

How will United look after August is done? – Tough to say. I think it’s important to remember that all teams in MLS struggle at times and United are no different in that regard. In combination with a thin squad and logging a ton or road miles to places where this team traditionally does not fare well, it’s hard to imagine United being very competitive in those matches.

However, the well-earned gift of 37 points in the table currently affords them some losses. I can only really see Toronto FC overtaking United by months end, maybe New York too, but they too have a tough upcoming month, as do most teams in MLS.

It just seems looking in from the outside that United has a bit too much on their plate and getting off to a terrible start with those two losses have not helped the collective psyche of the team. Sunday’s match against Colorado at home is critical in trying to alleviate the pressure of  the upcoming  games. If United can manage a win against Colorado and a win against Waterhouse FC (not a given considering they went to Panama and  beat Tauro FC 2-1 last week), then maybe they can go into that road trap of KC/LA with more confidence than I am currently willing to afford them.

If they lose/draw to Colorado, then I gather it will be a brutal few weeks for D.C. United and their faithful following..


United add Espindola, Attakora in Stage 2 of Re-Entry Draft

D.C. United continued their frenetic off season roster building by adding forward Fabian Espindola and defender Nana Attakora in today’s Stage 2 of the Re-Entry Draft. Both players are currently out of contract and will begin negotiations with the club immediately. United is under no obligation to pay either player their 2013 salary. United will have to offer some incentive however to keep both players as they both will most likely be depth players for United ahead of a busy 2014.

Espindola, the 28-year old Argentine native,  spent 2013 with New York Red Bull (9 goals and 2 assists in 28 games) after a six-year career with Real Salt Lake (35 goals and 17 assists in 105 games) and will add more depth and attacking verve to United’s striker corp that snared U.S. International Eddie Johnson via a trade with Seattle Sounders just yesterday.

Attakora, a 24-year old Canadian, began his career with hometown Toronto FC in 2007 as a Reserve Team player before finally cracking the first team lineup in 2008. Attakora spent four years with the club before being traded to San Jose ahead of the 2011 MLS Season. Playing time was tough to find out West as Attakora only made 14 appearances with the Quakes in his two years.

United has re-made the club in what seemingly has been the blink of an eye. Head coach Ben Olsen told everyone willing to listen after the season ended in November that the team had many avenues to explore to improve the depth and talent of his club. Inside of a week United had taken great strides to improve their bottom-of-the-barrel standing from last season. United still has the #1 pick in the MLS SuperDraft next month as well as the opening of the International Transfer window on January 1st. While United hasn’t fared so well on the International market in recent years, their ability to obtain solid domestic and league players continues to bear fruit.


MLS announces new club on the eve of conference Semifinal matches

On the eve of the second leg of the MLS Cup Semi-finals Major League Soccer announced that Orlando City SC will become the newest member of the “club.” Orlando will join the league as the 21st MLS franchise and is set to debut, under a “purple banner,” in 2015.

Orlando will join the league’s 20th franchise, New York City FC, in league play at the same time. This is the first time since 1998 that MLS has added two clubs in one year. Back then the league added the Chicago Fire and the now defunct, Miami Fusion.

The excitement of the addition of MLS’s 21st franchise comes at a time when four teams remain in the hunt for the 2013 MLS Cup. Still in play are Real Salt Lake and the Portland Timbers in the West, and Sporting KC and the Houston Dynamo in the East.

Heading into their second legs respectively each team still is capable of advancing to the League’s premier event, but in my opinion, Real Salt Lake and Sporting KC hold the edge in their respective series.

Houston and Sporting will face off on Saturday November 23rd at 7:30 pm in Sporting Park to conclude their series. The teams have played to consecutive scoreless draws, including a 0-0 draw in the first leg of the Eastern Conference semifinal series and Kansas City has only won once against the dynamo in the last five meetings at Sporting Park. Coincidentally the win came in the second leg of last year’s Eastern Conference Semifinals – Houston would prevail 2-1 by virtue of their 2-0 win in the first leg.

The teams are obviously no strangers to each other and Kansas City looks poised to avenge their Semifinal loss from last year to advance to this year’s MLS Cup.

In the West, Real Salt Lake holds a slight advantage over the Portland Timbers as they head into the “confines” of Jeld-Wen Field in Portland, Oregon on Sunday November 24th at 9:00 pm. Real leads the series by virtue of their opening leg 4-2 win at Rio Tinto Stadium in Salt Lake City, UT.

All Kreis’ guys need to do is not loose by more than 1 goal (to avoid extra time) to a Portland team that has not lost a competitive match in their home field since March 9, when they fell 2-1 to the visiting Montreal Impact. For Portland, overturning a 2 goal deficit is by no means impossible, but they will have to accomplish something that has not been done since 2004 when the then Kansas City Wizards came back to defeat the San Jose Earthquakes 3-2 on aggregate to win the series.

Real holds the advantage by virtue of their 2 goal lead and the fact that Kreis’ squad is ready to forget this year’s Open Cup debacle.

If I were to place a bet on the official William hill website my money would be on a Sporting KC vs Real Salt Lake in the MLS Cup Final, with Sporting edging the boys from UT to win their Second MLS Cup, their first since becoming Sporting KC. A prediction I mad earlier this season on the Podcast.

DC United's captain, Dwayne DeRosario (right) and Coach Ben Olsen, lift the 2013 US Open Cup Trophy. Photo Tony Quinn

U.S. Open Cup Final – United at Real Salt Lake: OMG! Open Cup #3 for United as they stun RSL 1-0

“That’s why they play the game”

This often-used sports cliche is no truer this evening than it was nearly 90 years ago when it was first uttered by legendary baseball manager Casey Stengel.

D.C. United (above photo: Tony Quinn) stunned the American soccer world this evening with an improbable 1-0 win over Real Salt Lake in the 100th edition of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup final in Sandy, Utah. The win for United, it’s 3rd Open Cup title (in addition to 1996 and 2008 wins) and 13th major piece of hardware, was the unlikeliest of all considering their enormous underdog status heading into the match.

After all the 2013 version of United is teetering on inclusion on the short list of one of the worst teams MLS has ever seen in it’s 17-year history. Yet, in spite of them sitting 17 places behind RSL in the MLS standings, they came to Utah with nothing to lose and found a way to gut out what will no doubt be a famous 1-0 win. Lewis Neal’s 45th minute strike gave United all they would need on a night that saw them put for the the type of effort it’s been missing in league play all season long. In this Open Cup competition, United went 4-0-1 including beating four MLS teams, the last two of which were road wins in Chicago and tonight’s effort in Sandy, Utah. This of course is in stark contrast to their road efforts in MLS this season where they are a staggering 0-13-3 in 16 matches.

Head coach Ben Olsen has been making a point for about 4-5 weeks now about his team building towards the Open Cup final. Considering United has long been out of any type of playoff chase, this was easy enough to believe. However, United’s league play over the past 4-5 weeks gave no indication that United would be giving the heavily-favored RSL much of a match. That’s exactly what United gave them.

Stout defending and opportunistic movements going forward were pretty much the game plan for United. Frustrate RSL and hope they start to feel the pressure. For 45 minutes it worked like a charm. While RSL was certainly dictating the tempo of the match (nearly 70% of possession), they really didn’t garner any dangerous chances in the first forty-five minutes aside from a rasping drive from Joao Plata that sailed high and tight past Bill Hamid’s near post.

Then United struck against the run of play (below) in the 45th minute to put all kinds of doubt in the minds of RSL’s heavily favored squad. John Thorrington turned two RSL defenders deep along the left side of the penalty area and hit a dangerous ball into the area. The ball caromed off RSL defender Carlos Salcedo and right into the path of Lewis Neal who plowed his left-footed shot past Nick Rimando and into the far side of the goal for an improbable 1-0 lead for the Black-and-Red.

Real Salt Lake continued their heavy pressure throughout the remainder of the match but United by all rights should have been a man up in second-half stoppage time when Nick Rimando desperately came 40 yards out of his goal to take down United forward Conor Doyle but incredibly the game official only issued a yellow-card to Rimando and kept RSL at full strength.

United held off RSL twice in the dying seconds of the match when Hamid came up big in the net corralling a half-bike attempt from RSL substitute Devon Sandoval and then somehow managing to gather a loose ball that almost deflected into his goal via a touch from team mate Luis Silva with just seconds to spare.

After Hamid sent his punt flying, United’s bench poured out onto the field in celebration as the most unlikely of scenarios came to fruition this evening in Sandy, Utah. People now will start to question the heart of RSL as they have now lost two major championship matches on their home field. Tonight’s loss to United and their 1-0 loss to Monterrey in the final of the CONCACAF Champions League in April of 2012 when only a draw against the Mexican giants would have seen MLS’ first true continental champion.

That’s why the play the game..

With the win, incredibly, United now has secured a spot in the 2014-2015 CONCACAF Champions League. United, on the brink of becoming one of the poorest teams in recent MLS memory, will have an opportunity in the summer of 2014 to start a journey to become Champions of CONCACAF.

United now will somehow attempt to turn their attention to the remaining four MLS matches to play beginning on Friday night at RFK Stadium when they welcome the Chicago Fire to town.



Lionard Pajoy

United vs Real Salt Lake: Pajoy bags game-winner in 1-0 win over RSL

Lionard Pajoy’s 60th minute goal was enough as D.C. United defeated Real Salt Lake 1-0 tonight at RFK Stadium. The win for United (1-1-0  3 points) is their 19th consecutive match without a loss at the old stadium going back to last season’s opening game loss to Sporting Kansas City. Real Salt Lake (1-1-0  3 points) is still win less in Washington all-time. The match was pretty benign through the first forty-five minutes with only Chris Pontius’ sharp angle shot in the 32nd minute being well saved by former United goalkeeper Nick Rimando.

After the break things started to heat up and in the 60th minute United forged ahead. John Thorrington corralled a poor clearance from a Pontius corner and sent a deft chip towards goal that forced Rimando to back peddle just to flap the ball away. Pajoy was right there to head the ball into an empty net as RSL surrounded the referee to ask why Pajoy wasn’t adjudged to be in an offside position. After replays, the assistant referee made the correct call as an RSL defender was slow to come out of the goal on Thorrington’s original shot on goal.

Three minutes later more controversy erupted as RSL defender Kenny Mansally appeared to have head-butted Perry Kitchen. After a brief dust up between the two teams, the referee only awarded a yellow card to Mansally after consulting with one of his assistant referee’s. The edginess continued throughout the remainder of the match as both teams had solid claims for some rough fouls that were never called.

United, playing without their captain Dwayne De Rosario while serving the second of his two-game suspension for his preseason head butt, lacked creativity on offense for the most part but were rock solid defensively all night long, forcing only two saves from Bill Hamid on the night.

After the match head coach Ben Olsen didn’t want to get drawn into a debate about the effectiveness of the goal scorer Pajoy. “He scored the goal,” Olsen said in response to a question describing the numerous missed opportunities Pajoy had to either shoot or setup a teammate in scoring position. “I’m not going to bag on him tonight because he scored.”

Carlos Ruiz

Carlos Ruiz. Photo: Martin Fernandez.

Carlos Ruiz made his debut with United and should have scored in extra time when he was set up beautifully by another substitute Kyle Porter. Porter broke free with the ball down the right wing as RSL were pushing numbers forward and his pass hit Ruiz in stride but Rimando came out and closed down the Guatemalan striker who surely would have sent the 17,072 fans into hysteria had he scored on his home debut.

United will now face their rivals Red Bull New York next weekend in their home opener. The last time United was in Red Bull Arena was this past November in their 1-0 win over Red Bull which eliminated them from the 2012 MLS Cup playoffs.

United vs. Real Salt Lake Preview

D.C. United opens up the home portion of their 2013 MLS regular season with a matchup against Real Salt Lake this Saturday night at 7pm at RFK Stadium.

United is coming off of a disappointing but ultimately predictable 2-0 loss in Houston last weekend to open up the 2013 campaign. Two late goals sunk United in a very credible defensive effort against a team that simply has their number in the state of Texas (United is winless in 11 matches across all competitions lifetime against Houston). While defense did it’s part through the first 80 minutes of the match, it fell apart in the final ten minutes. Offensively United could only muster a few solid chances and ultimately never even registered a shot on goal. Obviously things must change this weekend in order to avoid another 0-2 start to the season.

Meanwhile, Real Salt Lake is coming off a surprising 2-0 road win in San Jose last weekend courtesy of two fine finishes from their Costa Rican sniper Alvaro Saborio. The scoreline may have flattered RSL a bit as San Jose was dominant in the match but simply couldn’t close the deal. Reigning Golden Boot winner Chris Wondolowski had seven attempts on goal without scoring, a sure sign that things didn’t go well for the Supporters Shield winners from last season. RSL was patient and clinical in their finishing and were deserved winners at the end of the day.

Looking at this matchup in particular, one has to wonder if Ben Olsen is going to take a more offensive approach to this match as opposed to his three defensive midfielder lineup that he brought out against Houston last weekend. With an 18-match unbeaten streak at RFK on the line, you would think that Olsen will indeed release the hounds and go for an emphatic win.

My guess at the lineup will see United employ a few changes to get more offense into the team. I think the substitution at halftime last weekend of James Riley for Daniel Woolard was more than just fear of Woolard picking up a second yellow. Although Riley gave up the game-winning goal via the dreaded own-goal, his ability to get upfield and also to get more speed overall into the oustide channels will be a key in this match. Chris Korb will switch over to the left and the usual combo of BMac and Dejan Jakovic will be in place. Let’s hope BMac gets his poor performance in Houston out of his system as he just didn’t seem to be locked in as well as he should have been.

In midfield I also see some changes which would be bringing in Marcos Sanchez into the team which could possibly move Chris Pontius into the DeRo role (DeRo of course is serving the second game of his two-game suspension for his preseason headbutting of former United midfielder Danny Cruz) in support of lone striker Lionard Pajoy. This move would flip Nick DeLeon over to the left side of midfield with Sanchez on the right. However, Olsen could just as easily inject Sanchez into the withdrawn forward role and keep Pontius and DeLeon in their usual spots. Off the bench United should have plenty of striker firepower should it be needed. Olsen said earlier this week that Carlos Ruiz is getting more and more integrated into the squad during training and we’ve still haven’t seen the debut of Rafael either.

Either way, I think it’s important that Olsen and his squad take the match to RSL. Watching the team capitulate to Houston was tough to watch and you could almost predict that type of effort once you saw John Thorrington pressed into central midfield as the lineups were revealed. While you can’t blame the loss on that one move, Thorrington didn’t exactly cover himself in glory either and honestly he wsa put in a tough position with the suspension to DeRo at end of last week.

Looking at what RSL can offer is pretty simple. The team depth that once enveloped the squad is all but gone. Traded away in the offseason were stalwarts Will Johnson, Jamison Olave and Fabian Espindola. Additionally, usual starters Chris Wingert, Nat Borchers and Javier Morales missed their opener through injury and all are doubts for this match as well.

With that in mind, the lineup that took the field against San Jose will probably be the exact same with maybe the lone exception being Ned Grabavoy slotting into midfield for Khari Stephenson. While the lineup doesn’t exactly wow you with quality, particulary in the inexperienced back four, they did manage to pull off one of the surprising results last weekend so that in itself should not be overlooked.  Also of concern for United fans is the return of Robbie Findley alongside United-killer Saborio. While Findley doesn’t have the scoring success against United that Saborio has, his speed threat will be big in a match that I expect United to dominate possession. The counter attack ability of RSL could be deadly in this match.

Now we’ll get to arguably the weakest part of my particular game – the prediction. While I did predict a loss last week in Houston, that wasn’t exactly going out on a limb. For this match, I do see an improved performance by United in terms of dictating the tempo and creating chances and I also predict a good bounce back performance from BMac too.

I think United takes this one in a close 2-1 win with Pontius and Ruiz getting the goals. That’s right, Ruiz getting the game-winner in the second half.

Episode 110 – The Toronto Zone

Join Chris, Mike, Randy and Martin as they talk about United’s last two matches, including the 2-2 draw against Red Bull and the 1-0 loss against Real Salt Lake at Rio Tinto Stadium. The guys have a lively discussion on United’s present woes and also talk about the US’s World Cup Qualifying campaign.