Sunday, May 06, 2007

D.C. United!!! One Win and Counting -- I made my first appearance this year in the Barra Brava/Screaming Eagles section, in the third row. Sitting (I should say standing) there is the greatest sports experience in the capital region. On a sunny afternoon, I think that it is one of the coolest things a sports fan can do in this country. These folks know the game, and they are not quiet about vocalizing their support, nor are they shy about criticizing the guys in the black United uniforms. Admittedly there's a few cheers that aren't exactly family friendly, but it's all in fun.

As for the game itself, United got a wonderful first goal, as Benny Olsen got himself a little space in the corner, and crossed the ball into the goal box. Guy-Rowland Kpene, making his first start, skillfully deflected the ball past a couple of defenders, where it set up for Cristian Gomez. Last year's league MVP, Gomez volleyed the ball into the net, to put D.C. on top, 1-0.

A little later on, an even younger rookie, Kasali Yinka Casal, grabbed a long pass on the wing, and tried to cut back inside of the defender, before going down hard. It appeared from my perch that Casal might have forced the issue, as he tried to run through the defender, after pushing the ball into the box. Whatever the case, the referee pointed to the penalty spot. Jaime Moreno hit a cheeky lob down the middle of the goal, just under the bar, as the Chivas goalie dove to his left.

With a 2-0 lead, it felt like a rout might be in the offing. Chivas USA had other notions. The game suddenly turned in their favor. United's offense appeared to be completely spent. Gomez and Moreno played as if they were completely out of gas. Gomez was eventually replaced, but Moreno was either unable or unwilling to do any more running. On the other end, Chivas began to find holes in the United defense. Maykel Galindo got back one goal for Chivas. A shot by Ante Razov was deflected slightly by United's goalie, Troy Perkins flatfooted and beaten, but United were saved by the crossbar. Perkins made two spectacular saves to preserve the slim lead, including a game-saving stop of a header by Francisco Mendoza, a highlight reel save, coming in the 89th minute. Along the way, Perkins made several other good saves, one off a header by Claudio Suarez, for good measure.

Time ran out on Chivas, and D.C. United had its first victory. The players showed real appreciation for their cheering section, as they came over and applauded the fans. Sometimes, this is a perfunctory gesture, but the United players seemed completely thrilled by their support.

Sure, United struggled late, but this could be a galvanizing victory that really sets them on the path towards the championship everyone was expecting back in the preseason. Of course, I know it's early, and United is still only 1-3-1. On the other hand, United finally won a game. It's a sunny day. Optimism abounds.

Report card: First the new guys -- Though he flubbed a near-certain goal with a header that bounced to the goalie, off a corner kick, Kpene turned in yeoman's work. I expect that Coach Soehn will be seeking opportunities to work Kpene into the lineup. Casal looked fairly good, too, particularly on defense, where his work-rate was more in evidence. On offense, he seemed to become a spectator too often, especially when he was in an offside position. He needs to get himself back onside, rather than waiting for the game to come to him. Justin Moose got a surprising start. He had two fine opportunities to score, On the first, Moose seemed indecisive about whether to shoot or pass. It appeared that he chose the in-between option. His centering ball went wide of the net, but went through the goal box, just beyond the reach of the charging Ben Olsen. Moose also struck one good shot that sailed just a little bit high. His defense was a little spotty, and he picked up a needless yellow card. Moose found himself on the bench to start the second half.

The veterans -- Gomez' goal was a good bit of skill, but he seemed out of sorts for most of the game. Moreno didn't have his best game either, but his penalty shot goal was a beauty. The defense made good plays, but had some real breakdowns late in the game. Josh Gros was the least effective of the defenders, and it was Gross who was beaten on Galindo's rush that resulted in Chivas' lone goal. Boswell, Namoff, Carroll -- they all made excellent plays to break up Chivas' attacks. Facundo Erpen played fairly solidly, though he made one curious play with a bicycle back-pass to the goalie.

Speaking of the goalie, Troy Perkins seemed a little nervous -- his confidence may be a bit shaken from the rough start -- but he really came up huge in the final minutes. The save that stoned Mendoza just at the 89th minute may have been the most spectacular, and the most important of Perkins' young career.

Finally, Ben Olsen. Always, Ben Olsen. He's a marvel of consistency. He has his limitations, but he works hard and he's the guy who makes this offense go. It will be Kpene and Gomez who get the kudos for the first goal, but it was Olsen who made their skillful touches possible. Bravo, Ben.

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