DC United and the Columbus Crew played basically the same 1-0 match Saturday night at RFK Stadium that they did two weeks ago in Ohio but with a reversed result.
Just as the Crew scored the game’s only goal shortly after the second half restart in Columbus, United for once did the same as Chris Pontius slammed home a Long Tan rebound from short range for his 10th goal of the season to give United a 1-0 lead that would hold up under late duress.
The goal in the 49th minute ended United’s 229-minute scoreless drought in MLS regular season play and got them back on track (11-7-3) after three losses in four matches. The win also extends their home unbeaten run at home to 10, including seven wins in a row.
“It wasn’t a great performance from us overall but it was a win and an important win with the results we had as of late and we had to grind one out and we did that,” said United coach Ben Olsen.
Though Pontius was the final touch of the winning goal sequence, it was the struggling Nick DeLeon’s penetrating run from the right flank and then scintillating spin off the touch line that that made the play. Tan was at the other end of the original ball and while his nifty back heel was saved by Andy Gruenebaum, it produced the juicy rebound that Pontius pounced on at the back post.
“(Chris) Korb played a ball down the line and I heard the sidelines say ‘go at him, go at him!” said DeLeon. “He (Josh Williams) gave me a little space toward the line and fortunately enough, I got it through and we got the goal.”
While it was actually Dwayne DeRosario who played the ball down the line to the running DeLeon, it was the crafty spin move after seemingly losing the ball near the touch line that added the luster and shine.
“That was just a bad touch. The defender was coming so I improvised and it worked out for the best,” DeLeon said laughing.
DeLeon played on the right of midfield versus his preferred left but once he got used to seeing the game from that side, he, along with Pontius, impacted the United attack more than anyone else in the side.
“Early he wasn’t real tuned into the game but about 15-minutes before (the end of) the first half he started to click again and I saw that early Nick DeLeon and he continued it into the second half but mainly he made a great individual play to get us 1-0,” said Olsen.
DeLeon had been struggling both physically and mentally after a tremendous start to the season. It is typical for rookies, especially those used to the three month college season, to eventually run into that proverbial wall at some point during their first professional season.
“Mentally I got into a little slump so recently I’ve been focusing on amping my game up to that next level because you can’t be satisfied with where you’re at,” said DeLeon. “So these last few weeks in practice I’ve been working hard and pushing it, trying to get to that next level and I guess it showed in the game.”
“They all hit it at different times, different lengths,” Olsen said. “It’s always a tough thing to manage as a coach. They need to play and they want to play and they want to force out of this funk that they’re in but sometimes all they need is a week in Hawaii or something.”
“They are overwhelmed,” Olsen continued. “The college season is so short so to concentrate for this duration is tough, and that’s starting in the pre-season and by the summer you are already six months into this. You see it in the second year guys that they know how to concentrate for long periods and each year it gets a little bit better.”
Columbus came into the match with a typical visitor’s mentality and, for the most part, it was working. They were very physical early on, receiving three yellow cards in the first 36-minutes as they sat back and absorbed, hoping to capitalize on those one or two counters that inevitably present themselves in every match.
“The whole game (except the last 10-minutes). I wasn’t surprised,” said defender Brandon McDonald about the Crew’s strategy to sit back and how similar this game was to the one two weeks earlier. “I just think it was more fight from us. You could tell down to the end when that final whistle, guys were exhausted. I think we gritted our teeth a bit and then stuck our foot in it.”
In the final half hour, United lost their way primarily through disconnected play and bad turnovers. Conversely, the Crew made the necessary adjustments but didn’t fully open it up until the last 10-minutes.
“We weren’t being as smart on the ball,” said McDonald. “I think their success in the last 25-minutes came from us giving the ball away.”
“I would have liked to have dictated the game a little bit more down the stretch,” agreed Olsen. “I think we got tired and we weren’t moving for each other so there weren’t that many options. We were looking for that second maybe too much rather than getting hold of the game again.”
The task of holding the lead became more daunting for United when consistent left back Daniel Woolard left the game with an apparent head injury in the 62nd minute. Woolard’s head collided with Emiliano Dudar’s as both went up to clear away a Columbus chance from inside the six yard box. Woolard, clearly dazed, inexplicably drifted to the sideline away from the benches and away from the ensuing corner kick. The only legitimate option remaining on the bench, however, was Lewis Neal, a left sided midfielder.
While Columbus threatened until the final whistle, Bill Hamid wasn’t really required to make any difficult saves.
“They just kept coming and threw a lot of numbers forward and when they do that, they are going to get looks and crosses and 2-v-1’s and things but I thought we held up well. We were committed.
Branko Boskovic played the full 90-minutes for the first time this season.
Hamdi Salihi was a left off the 18-man roster (Coach Decision).
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