Thursday, August 23, 2007

Big Night -- for Jaime Moreno and D.C. United: Let's not dwell on the United States' tough loss to Sweden, because tonight we honor the new Sultan of Score, the Genie of Goals, Jaime Moreno. United's long-time scoring leader became the all-time goal-scoring leader in MLS history, with a penalty shot early in the second half of tonight's game against the New York Red Bulls.

It was an interesting game for some United stars, including Moreno. As a team, United really outplayed the Red Bulls. Most notably, Ben Olsen had a brilliant start to the game. First, he put away a rebound off a shot by Fred, who drove at the goal after taking a beautiful long clearance from goalie Troy Perkins. A few minutes later, Olsen's hustle again paid dividends, as he intercepted a pass on the wing. Olsen then executed a give-and-go combination with Moreno, and then Olsen crossed the ball to Christian Gomez, whose header gave United a 2-0 lead in the first nine minutes.

The best play of the night came later in the half, as Moreno again played the middle in a give-and-go with Olsen. This time, however, Olsen was surprised the return pass, a nifty back heel pass by Moreno that was so creative and so well-executed that Olsen was as surprised as the defense and couldn't control it. Following his fast start in this game, Olsen's night took a turn for the worse. Later, he found himself behind the defense (the linesman appeared to have missed a clear offsides on Olsen), but Olsen chose to try to force a cross to the onrushing Luciano Emilio, despite having an excellent, wide-open shot at the goal himself, with only the goalie to beat.

Late in the first half, United gave back a goal, when Marc Burch, who was the last defender, fell down and lost control of the ball just outside the penalty area. Burch immediately took down the Red Bulls' Juan Pablo Angel. Burch deserved a red card, but the referee allowed play to continue, because another Red Bulls player took possession with a chance to score. Perkins took down Richards, and Angel scored on the ensuing penalty shot. Frankly, United was very fortunate that Burch was not ejected for his deliberate hand-tackle of Angel -- giving up a goal, and going down a man would have changed the character of this game. As it stood, it was a rare miscue by Burch, who made several standout plays on defense. Like some of the other United players, Burch's night was a mix of the great and not-so-great.

Finally, United put the game away with Moreno's record-setting penalty shot goal, which followed a take-down of a streaking Emilio in the Red Bulls' penalty area. The jubilant crowd celebrated by serenading Moreno, and the game ball was given to the Bolivian striker's young son. Perhaps that bit of history will be headed to the United States Soccer Hall of Fame in upstate N.Y. -- or maybe just a place of honor in the Moreno home. Either way, United fans will long remember the moment.

United has disappointed in other tournaments, but remains a strong contender for top honors in the MLS this year. This game was emblematic of so much of their season. One can see the quality of this squad, just as one can see how this team sometimes fails to put away inferior opponents with inexplicable misplays. All-in-all, though, this was a dominating performance that thrilled a big crowd of the faithful at RFK. Can you really ask for more?

With Gomez and Moreno starting together for the first time in months, United is getting healthy, and looking much more energetic and creative. Troy Perkins has looked shaky recently, but not so tonight. Aside from the penalty, Perkins was decisive, and made several acrobatic saves. While the offense could have done more, with more aggressive shots, Coach Tom Soehn has to be happy with the chances his team created. Of course, things can turn in an instant. Luciano Emilio had to be helped from the field, during the second half. Hopefully, this will not be a serious injury. Otherwise, it was a great, historic night for D.C. United.

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