When news broke of team captain Dwayne De Rosario’s season-ending knee injury a week ago, the natural reaction was to think that United once again has to relive a nightmare from the prior season (Chris Pontius’ broken leg was followed by a 1-7-1 stretch to end the season). In the absence of their captain, someone would have to step up and take the mantle of team leader. Clearly Chris Pontius’ application made it to the top of the pile as his assist to Lionard Pajoy was the difference in United’s 1-0 victory over the Philadelphia Union tonight at PPL Park in Chester, Pennsylvania.
Pontius had a goal and an assist in United’s last game, a come-from-behind 2-1 win over the New England Revolution last weekend in D.C. just two days after learning De Rosario’s fate.
And while the game video of D.C. United’s 1-0 win won’t be making the trip to the Major League Soccer Hall of Fame anytime soon, this game served as a reminder that you don’t have to play beautiful flowing soccer to get desired results. A ragged match between two teams clearly trying to find their own identities devolved into a sloppy turnover-filled affair. Pajoy made his return back to PPL Park to face his former team since the trade last month that sent Danny Cruz northbound on I-95 and pulled off the ultimate redemption by scoring the game-winning goal in the 67th minute and virtually eliminating his former side from the MLS playoff race.
The win for United (14-10-5, 47 points) breaks a six-game road losing skid and pushes United past both Columbus (45 pts) and Houston (46 pts) and into 4th place in the Eastern Conference. All three teams have five matches remaining in the season but no result was bigger than this one this season for the Black-and-Red.
A very disjointed first half from both sides saw scant few chances with only Chris Pontius’ 35-yard free kick being the only credible chance at goal for both sides. United goalkeeper Bill Hamid showed a signs of nervousness when he misplayed three separate attempts to clear balls from the penalty area and almost gifted the home side with a goal midway through the first half.
After the break both Hamid and United started to settle into the match and starting dictating to the Union. Fielding a very young side without any real goalscoring threats the home team generated very little all game long except for a few nervy moments in United’s penalty area late in the match.
United’s breakthrough in the 67th minute came courtesy of the fresh legs of substitute Maicon Santos. The Brazilian triggered a quick and rare counter attack with a perfectly weighted 30-yard pass between two Union defenders and right into the stride of Pontius. United’s newly appointed talisman made a move on Union defender Gabriel Farfan that freed him deep in the penalty area. Former University of Maryland goalkeeper Zac MacMath cut down Pontius’ angle to goal but the fourth-year player from UC-Santa Barbara calmly chipped the ball to the penalty spot where Pajoy chested the ball down and rifled home a shot just an instant before former United midfielder Brian Carroll could knock it away.
Philadelphia could only muster a few half-chances that sent nerves jangling a bit through the United defense but the Black-and-Red held on to the vital three road points and renewed some confidence heading into a weekend match up on Sunday afternoon against an admittedly poor Chivas USA side.
With a win on Sunday, United could further fortify their playoff positioning and with some help from the New England Revolution (who host New York Red Bull on Saturday night) could move into third place in the East.
Just a week ago that scenario didn’t even seem remotely possible.