Tampa Bay Sports Day

Confident DC United extend unbeaten streak to five

With a surprising 3-2 win at Seattle Thursday night for their first road win of the season, DC United are on a serious uptick going into the two week World Cup hiatus.

They are now unbeaten in their last five overall matches that includes two league wins and a scoreless draw, their first clean sheet of the season and a win similar to this one in an international friendly against AC Milan.

Though the break may seem to be coming at a bad time, United boss Curt Onalfo understands he needs to make a dent in the lengthy injured list and the uninterrupted training is invaluable to improving the cohesion and integration of these players back into the side.

Is an unmotivated, out of fitness, AC Milan team on par with a competitive MLS team? Or is a match of primarily reserves in a U.S. Open Cup a good barometer? Perhaps.

Before this unlikely win against Seattle, they were the better side at home in a scoreless draw with the defending MLS Cup Champion Real Salt Lake, a veteran team with good playmakers and very good movement off the ball after having gotten a well deserved result with a late penalty kick against Chivas USA.

“We have said all along that we want to be in a position to make our push heading into the World Cup break, and by winning here tonight we have done that” said Onalfo.

“As a team, we always embrace whatever is thrown at us – whether it is good or bad. We will use this break to our advantage, work hard in training, and we will be ready for our upcoming friendly [with El Salvador] and Columbus in the League.”

United raced out to an unlikely 3-0 lead completely against the run of play versus the enigmatic Sounders with Chris Pontius scoring all three of United’s goals. As a good portion of the sellout crowd of 36,146 headed to the exits, the Sounders scored two late goals to at least make it interesting at the wire.

Second half substitute Barry Rice, who came on for the injured Jordan Graye, deflected a James Riley cross into the side netting of his own goal to break the shutout in the 90th minute and Freddy Montero’s classy header off an equally classy cross from the left flank by Freddie Ljungberg rounded out the scoring just a minute later.

“It was huge, this is not an easy place to play; unbelievable fan support,” said Onalfo regarding United’s first road victory of the season.

“For us, we needed to accumulate points over the last couple of weeks. We are within striking distance for playoff contention. We have two weeks to get better as a group so we can continue to climb up the standings in our goal of making the playoffs.”

Pontius’s first goal in the 39th minute was part superlative skill mixed with some forced luck. His brilliant shot fake at the top of the penalty area froze both Tyrone Marshall and Brad Evans and after pulling the ball back to his left foot, he fired a shot that deflected off the back of Patrick Ianni, who turned to the side at the last second, sending the spinning ball past a helpless Kasey Keller.

The rarest of rare mistakes by Keller extended United’s lead 5-minutes later when he inexplicably couldn’t handle a Pontius shot from 19-yards that hit the perfectly positioned keeper directly in the hands, trickling behind him and across the line evading his desperate dive. Pontius created the chance in the same fashion he did the first, dribbling around two defenders and using that same shot fake before cutting the shot loose.

Just prior to that second goal, Seattle’s brooding frustration manifested itself when Ljungberg earned himself a yellow card for shoving Julius James to the ground as the defender shielded the classy Swede from getting on a ball destined to roll across the end line. James started for the injured Juan Manuel Pena in central defense alongside Dejan Jakovic, who is just returning from a groin injury.

With play severely tilted toward United’s end of the park in the second half, Pontius got another fortunate bounce on what proved to be the game winner in the 79th minute on United’s only legitimate foray into Seattle territory.

A long diagonal free kick from the right side found the head of Pontius at the far post who directed it back across the box and the ball’s spin carried it across the goal line at the far post to extend the lead.

Despite the extended possession that produced 20 shots, Seattle had trouble dialing up the quality until the final quarter hour, barely testing Perkins.

Before the two late goals, a corner in the 77th minute produced two shots in a matter of seconds that finally got Perkins to the party. Clyde Simms shaky back header clearance at the near post found Tyrone Marshall in stride for a perfectly struck half volley at the far corner of the 6-yard box that Perkins parried away with a great reflex save off the goal line and denied Roger Levesque’s rebound attempt from some 16-yards out straight away.

United may have caught Seattle at the perfect time as injuries and their own finishing issues are influencing coach Sigi Schmidt’s line-up selections. Other than a four goal outburst against New England last week, Seattle had scored multiple goals at home only once in their seven previous home matches, a 2-0 win against expansion Philadelphia on the opening night of the season.

But punishing their opposition’s critical mistakes has been sparse for the beleaguered 4-time MLS Cup champions while the reverse has been quite the norm until tonight.

“Well, I think after tonight’s win and the way we have been playing recently things are really starting to bounce our way,” added Onalfo. “Our guys have worked incredibly hard to fight back, and I know we will continue to climb once we resume play in the League.”

Other than the unfortunate own goal, they did not have any major misses or gaffes versus Seattle. In contrast, the offense had misfired several times during the preceding scoreless draw with Real Salt Lake.

Stephen King’s two uncontested second half misses in the penalty area and Andy Najar’s tactical naiveté were prime examples of squandered opportunities that must be buried because frankly United is not yet good enough to overcome such misses.

Najar’s youthful exuberance got the better of him in the 81st minute of the Real game, as he chose to cut inside into traffic instead of playing the simple and tactically effective ball wide to Quaranta during a plum counter that could have given United the full points.

Najar, 17, has been exceptional however, with his attacking mentality and extraordinary first touch so the veteran Quaranta chose to cut him, and King, some slack. Had King let the ball run on his second chance in the 59th minute, either he or Danny Allsopp could have easily taken the chance.

“I’m gonna kill him; that’s another one,” said a laughing Quaranta after the Real draw. “Him and Kinger are on my list. I’ll let ‘em slide on this one. That’s it!”