Tampa Bay Sports Day

United squeak past Harrisburg 2-1

The Harrisburg City Islanders donned light blue warm-up tee shirts that said-Just Do It…AGAIN. They were game and worthy but DC United had other plans. But they didn’t make it easy on themselves either.

United turned a solid first half performance into another unnecessarily close match, escaping with 2-1 win over the Harrisburg at the Maryland SoccerPlex on Tuesday to advance to the semi-finals of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.

Harrisburg upset DC United 1-0 in the third round of the 2007 U.S. Open Cup prompting the bold fashion statement.

United got goals from Boyzzz Khumalo and Andrew Jacobson in the first half but lost their edge in the second stanza, allowing the energetic USL-2 side to make a game of it despite losing their captain to a red card just four minutes into the second half.

United will now face another lower division side, the USL-1 Rochester Rhinos on July 21st also at the Maryland SoccerPlex. The Rhinos defeated the Wilmington Hammerheads (USL-2) 2-1 on Tuesday.

United coach Tom Soehn rolled out another youthful lineup similar to the one that nearly got them in trouble last week in their 2-0 win over the Ocean City Barons, an amateur side from New Jersey, three levels below United in the table of American soccer.

He did however sprinkle in some veteran leadership with Bryan Namoff getting the call at his typical right back slot and Fred slotting into the midfield. The crafty Brazilian, coming off an adductor injury, played the full 90-minutes for the first time since a 2-0 win against New York in early June.

Soehn employed the standard game plan against a lesser opponent-get out to an early lead, bring them out of their bunker, maintain good possession and close the game out with opportunistic counters.

All were achieved except the latter. Harrisburg however, unlike Ocean City who bunkered from the opening kick, employed a standard 4-4-2 formation and though cautious, came out and played the game.

“That’s a directive in any of these matchups where you’re playing against a lower-level team,” said Soehn about getting that early goal. “They’re going to come out and give you everything they have. The way you take that away or the way you force them off the play is getting an early goal, and we did that. We didn’t finish the game off though.”

“I thought the way we started out the game we had a very aggressive mentality and we were moving the ball around pretty well,” Soehn added. “We created a lot of good opportunities, but again we created a lot more than we put away and if you keep a team around in this tournament, or any part of the world, if you keep a team around and they get one back, all of the sudden you’re scraping for it.”

Devon McTavish nearly put United ahead in the 6th minute off a corner kick but his strong header was cleared off the line smartly by Mo Oduor. Two minutes later however, McTavish curled a low, angled cross from the right flank that skidded past City Islander defender Tim Velten, connecting with the head of a lunging Khumalo near the far post to make the score 1-0.

Jacobson extended United’s lead to 2-0 in the 18th minute with an easy, uncontested header from inside the 6-yard box off a Fred corner for his first goal of the season.

As the tensions increased and the tackling became more ferocious coming out of the halftime break, Oduor got tied up with the smaller John DiRaimondo in the midfield, hammering the Saint Louis native with an elbow squarely in the face. Referee Lee Suckle immediately went to his pocket and pulled out the red card for Odour in 49th minute.

The momentum associated with the red card seemed to work in reverse however. United’s possession turned sloppy and lethargic and they subsequently paid for their sub-standard mentality.

“Yeah, I think it really came on the red card. I think we thought we had the game won and we forgot what it takes to do that, the work and the movement off the ball. We got very complacent,” said Soehn.

“It’s always tough playing against these guys because they don’t show nobody any respect. They come hard every time,” added Khumalo. “Most of the time these teams when you play them, they just sit back and pack it in so it’s kind of hard to break them down so that’s in the second half we just tried to keep the ball.”

Harrisburg subsequently played with far more pace and fluidity following the ejection setting United back on their heels in a search for answers.

“I think we just stopped playing in the second half,” added Fred. “We were not good and they put pressure on us and they were able to get that one goal and came close to tying and we can’t let that happen again.”

Nicki Paterson drew the City Islanders to within a goal in the 64th minute, capitalizing off a scramble in the penalty are created by an inexcusable turnover by Greg Janicki near the top of United’s penalty area.

“I need to go back and look at [the mistake that led to Harrisburg’s goal], but there wasn’t just that mistake” Soehn said. “We made a couple other key mistakes late. Playing some of those guys in these types of games you have to figure out now where they’re at and they have to improve. So these are good tests for all of us.”

In hopes of settling the game down and putting it away, Soehn inserted Christian Gomez but it did not slow down the energetic side from Pennsylvania’s state capital.

Harrisburg should have drawn level by all rights but David Schofield’s half volley from inside 10-yards thumped squarely off the crossbar in the 73rd minute.

“Once they got that goal, they kind of just threw everything out – they could just go for it,” said Jacobson. “They had nothing to lose. It’s difficult to play a team with nothing to lose. They threw caution to the wind and threw everyone forward.”

Due to some quirky scheduling, United will now have 11 days off before embarking on a stretch of five games in two weeks starting with a July 18th tilt at home against Colorado.