Tampa Bay Sports Day

DC United entertains fans with 3-2 victory over AC Milan

Be honest…subconsciously, or maybe even overtly, did any of the following phrases enter your mind about DC United’s international friendly with AC Milan-“just be competitive please” or “just don’t embarrass yourselves” or “just try to keep it close?” Don’t lie or be ashamed to admit it and with the way this season has manifested itself, who would blame you for these or any congruous thoughts?

Chris Pontius ©ASN

But here is the kicker-historically, have they really ever let you down? Other than perhaps a shaky second half against Real Madrid a year ago at home, not really. Chelsea twice, Real Madrid in Seattle, Tottenham and Celtic, both wins, several years ago-all good performances and this match was no different.

Not only did they give their fans a good performance, they came away victorious, defeating the star-studded Rosseneri 3-2 before a split but appreciative crowd of 30,367.

“We had a point to prove tonight,” said Chris Pontius, who who had a part in United’s first two goals. “We owe all of our fans for the way we started [the season]; 1-8 is not the way we wanted to start the year, and tonight was a chance for us to go out and play without three points on the line and for us to go out and enjoy the game of soccer, and I thought you saw that tonight.”

“Winning breeds confidence, and I think we needed a win to get over the hump, and playing well and having success is definitely something we can build on,” said United head coach Curt Onalfo.

The purely entertaining match was clouded only by the horrific left knee injury to United’s Brandon Barklage after getting tangled up with Manuele Blasi, forcing the home side to play a man down for the final 25-minutes.

With the unlimited substitution rule in effect, Onalfo had already inserted all of his players and despite his vociferous pleas to referee Mark Kadlecik and the 4th Official, was not allowed to re-enter a player.

“In the first half I thought our performance was very good,” said Onalfo. “It was a night where I tried to get all the players minutes and in the second half we played with a different team, and we had a really nasty injury, and we had to hold on to the lead and win, and it’s a win that we’re going to try to build on for Saturday’s game against Chivas USA. “

With their Serie A season ending two weeks ago and with many of their regulars away preparing for the World Cup, Milan still brought over some marquee names- Alessandro Nesta, Clarence Seedorf, Filippo Inzaghi and of course Ronaldhino and Alexandre Pato -both of whom Dunga surprisingly left off the Brazilian World Cup roster. And though their motivation and fitness were a bit lacking, they still put on a worthy show.

“We were here to entertain the people,” said Seedorf, who admitted he and his teammates were having trouble getting motivated. “It’s normal that there’s not the same motivation as in a normal (League) game. We’re still very professional and we performed our best possible today.

“I think we started out very well- our first fifteen minutes we created three chances and that’s the name of the game. If you don’t score, that’s when they score. After one-nil of course they got excited and got their wings. They played well. I think it was a good exhibition game.”

Milan showed their class early and often with precise one-touch combinations, not playing a ball over the top until the 15th minute. A nifty combination play in the first minute from Ronaldhino and Seedorf culminated in a dastardly look-away flick from the veteran Brazilian, springing Pato behind Rodney Wallace. Young goalkeeper Bill Hamid was equal to the challenge however, denying Pato’s angled shot from 6-yards out.

The fleet footed younger Brazilian was seemingly behind United’s backline at will but couldn’t seal the deal, missing badly with a shot from the top of the penalty area in the 8th minute and being cut off nicely by an aggressive Hamid in the 22nd minute.

Ronaldhino did his best to entertain as well and should have done better with a header off a corner from 6-yards that bounced harmlessly wide in the 18th minute. He followed that up in stoppage time with a deft flick marked for the right corner that a sliding Wallace alertly knocked off the goal line.

The former FIFA World player of the year saved his best for later however, flicking a pass from Pato straight up with his right foot and perfectly striking a bicycle kick with his left from 7-yards that hit the right post in the 53rd minute.

Four minutes later, clearly fatigued, he flopped to the ground in the penalty area looking for a call after colliding with Devon McTavish. When Kadlecik correctly did not award the penalty, he popped up laughing with his trademark smile and was replaced shortly thereafter by Alessandro Mancini.

Despite struggling to keep any kind of possession, United was organized and scored on all three of their shots on goal. Stephen King floated a ball from the right flank to the far post that Chris Pontius alertly headed back across the goal toward the 6-yard box in the path of Luciano Emilio, who beat Claudio Terzi to the spot for the tap in goal and an unlikely 1-0 lead in the 20th minute.

United extended the lead ten minutes later with Pontius doing the deed himself, knocking home a Santino Quaranta corner kick in front of goalkeeper Christian Abbitai, who was a bit passive in deciding to step out and clear the ball away near the top of 6-yard box.

Pontius and Quaranta had actually set up the corner with a nice combination play of their own on the left side with Pontius firing a shot from distance that tagged for the far corner that was blocked.

“I think you saw a different element tonight. It was some dynamic players on the field and we went in with a game plan and we really stuck to it,” said Quaranta. “Our line of pressure, collectively how we were going to defend and that’s how you win games. We’re going to get our chances, we didn’t get a bunch of them but we finished some.”

After Andy Najar’s cracker from some 30-yards out on the left side that skipped just wide of the far post, Milan got serious.

“Of course; I don’t want to lose, I don’t like to lose,” Seedorf said about their professional pride kicking in eventually. “It doesn’t matter when I play, a friendly match or not, the motivation is that we are sportsman so when we go into a game we want to win but of course the legs are not as fresh as during the season but the head is and that is why we started very well and played good football.”

After Pontius was horse collared to the ground by Mathieu Flamini in the 34th minute and then a minute later chopped down by Ignazalo Abate, referee Mark Kadlecik was forced to book the latter as the visitors realized they were now in a game.

United further extended the shocking result, with an “excuse me” goal from Danny Allsopp when Abbitai’s clearing attempt hit the burly Aussie and trickled into the open net to make the score 3-0.

After Barklage’s unforeseen departure, the Rosseneri picked up the tempo-albeit slightly-but enough to get them back in the game. Defender Massimo Oddo got both goals for the visitors, the first on a marginal penalty kick call in the 70th minute when Kurt Morsink was called for a hand ball, sliding to defend a cross from Mancini at the lower left corner of the penalty area.

His second tally was a 30-yard blast that clipped off James and changed direction enough to get by the diving Perkins on the near side. Oddo made a final overreaching bid for a hat trick and position as the top entertainer with a dazzling full volley strike off Pato’s long floating ball from left flank which sailed over the mark.