by: Rick Allen
May 5, 2010
D.C. United took to the field at RFK Stadium last night looking to erase the memories of April, which saw the team win just one of its seven matches in all competitions, including a three-match overall losing streak to conclude the month. What they got was one goal each from forwards Josh Wolff and Charlie Davies, and a mostly comfortable 2-1 victory over a Seattle Sounders FC which brought a boost in the standings to fifth place in the Eastern Conference.
With the recent diagnosis of a torn ACL effectively ending midfielder Branko Boskovic's season, there was reason to wonder what would happen if United needed an offensive spark in central midfield, and reason to doubt that anyone on this current roster could provide it. Thankfully fans of the team would not have to find out last night if there was reason to worry, as in the 31st minute Davies ran onto an Andy Najar pass on the right side before playing a low cross to the far post which Wolff was on hand to finish. The second goal was nearly a mirror image of the first, with Wolff turning provider in the 52nd minute with a low cross from the right to the far post and Davies sliding in to beat goalkeeper Kasey Keller, again set up by an Najar pass. D.C. generated six shots on goal from their 11 overall shots on the night, and were maybe unlucky to not have scored more after Najar hit the post in the first half, and Davies just missed connecting with a cross in front of the goal late in the second half.
Trailing by two goals, Seattle coach Sigi Shmid turned to his bench in the 59th minute, inserting midfielder Mauro Rosales in exchange for defender James Riley. The substitution seemed to tilt the field in favor of Seattle, as they suddenly began to pressure the United defense far more than they did in the first half. United goalkeeper Bill Hamid was forced into a few acrobatic saves, and kept Seattle at bay until a lunging Dejan Jakovic took down Sounders forward Fredy Montero in the area in the 71st minute. Montero appeared to have been looking for the contact and went down fairly easily, but referee Hilario Grajeda, who had let a lot of physical play on both sides go unpunished throughout the night, had little choice but to award a penalty to the visitors. Midfielder Brad Evans stepped up to the penalty spot and beat Hamid to his right as Hamid dove to his left. Seattle continued to pressure after the goal, and if not for Hamid's heroics they could have very easily left with a draw or even a win. Needing his team to keep possession, United coach Ben Olsen, having already swapped an injured Chris Pontius for Santino Quaranta shortly after the second half kickoff, withdrew Najar in favor of Fred in the 77th minute. Down the stretch, Fred helped maintain possession and kill off the game for D.C. They saw out the rest of regulation and the three minutes of stoppage time for the win.
The makeshift four-man backline that Olsen started included Perry Kitchen, usually a central defender, on the right and Daniel Woolard on the left, with Jakovic and Ethan White as the center backs. Jakovic, who has been panned lately by supporters for poor performance, showed significant improvement up until he conceded the penalty. He made a couple of goal saving tackles and won his share of aerial battles. Woolard looked lost at times and was out of position on a few occasions. I'm not sure why he was favored over Chris Korb, who was included on the bench. I know that Korb is right footed and would be playing out of position on the left, but keeping a player in his usual position obviously did not factor into Kitchen playing right back. This all feels somewhat like nitpicking since D.C. won the match, but it's not as though this was a flawless performance. The defense still needs work, but it appears that Olsen is willing to tinker with it. That's going to serve the team well as the season wears on. Having allowed just one goal looks good statistically, but the credit for that goes to Hamid more than the backline. Wolff may have been announced in the stadium as Man of the Match, but my personal vote goes to the goalkeeper.
In the end D.C. United got a badly needed win and now must turn its focus to FC Dallas, their visiting foes this coming Saturday. United are not actually the team with comprehensive 3-1 and 3-0 victories earlier this season, nor are they the team with recent comprehensive 4-0 and 4-1 defeats. They reside somewhere in the middle and there is room for improvement. Hopefully last night signaled the beginning of that.