D.C. United 2, New England Revolution 1
It felt like a new, shortened season for D.C. United at RFK Stadium on Saturday, where the team was rusty out of the gate in its first match in two weeks. United was also without its captain and key playmaker, Dwayne De Rosario, who was lost for the year earlier in the week to a knee injury.
When the final whistle sounded for a 2-1 victory over New England, the result felt like nearly every game has at home in 2012. With the win, United (13-10-5, 44 points) extended its unbeaten streak at home to 14 games, setting a franchise record. More importantly, it reestablished its place in a playoff position with six matches remaining. Mathematically eliminating the Revolution (7-15-7, 28 points) didn’t hurt either.
“To a man, we were rusty,” United coach Ben Olsen said. “It was not a great game. We were probably lucky. It could’ve went either way… We’re going to have to do much better than that going forward if we’re going to reach our goal.”
But D.C. still did enough, coming from behind with a goal and an assist from Chris Pontius one day after he completed the signing of a new, long-term contract. When the United defense started to crumble, goalkeeper Bill Hamid preserved the result with late game heroics in the box.
“Unfortunately, we got a little mixed up in the end, but we came out with a ‘W,’” Hamid said.
Without De Rosario for just the second time all season, D.C. United struggled to find its rhythm in the opening 30 minutes. Branko Boskovic endured a physical pounding in the midfield, and chemistry wasn’t immediate for forwards Lionard Pajoy and Maicon Santos in their first start together. Santos returned to the first 11 for the first time since July 15, a span of eight matches.
The Revolution deservedly went ahead in the 29th minute on scoring sequence that started when Dejan Jakovic missed his attempt to cut off a pass out of the New England defense, allowing 17-year-old Diego Fagundez to get in behind the United back line. Fagundez then found a wide open Kelyn Rowe on the right side of the box, and he pounded a shot over Hamid’s left shoulder.
The goal sparked D.C. to life and a response just three minutes later. Boskovic carried the ball down the center of the field, and angling to his left, saw Pontius overlapping behind. Earning his fifth assist of the season, Boskovic softly rolled the ball behind himself, and Pontius unleashed a first-time blast that skipped into the lower left corner of the net past a diving Matt Reis. The goal was Pontius’ career-best 11th of the year.
Lewis Neal came off the bench 11 minutes after halftime to replace Boskovic, who Olsen said wasn’t 90-minutes fit. The English midfielder made his 13th appearance of the season but will be in line for more with De Rosario out.
“We were texting last night,” Pontius said. “I said [to Neal], ‘You come in and you give me an assist.’ He said, ‘Alright, Becks.’ He calls me Becks, and I call him Becks because he’s from England. It was roles reversed tonight.”
Indeed, as Neal curled in a well-placed shot from the top of the box in the 63rd minute after Pontius drove down the left wing and cut back at the edge of the box.
“We’re going to have to have a little text there before every game now just to see if it can help either of us to get a goal or an assist,” Neal said.
But none of 15,104 in attendance were able to celebrate thanks to D.C.’s frantic defending and loose marking down the stretch. Hamid was forced off his line to smother Rowe’s one-on-one chance in the 85th minute before having to make a pair of reaction saves on Benny Feilhaber in the 86th. Hamid first had to deny a header that appeared to surprise Feilhaber, and then he had to be surprised himself at Feilhaber’s space to turn with the ball just six yards from the net.
“Bill saved our butts at the end,” Pontius said. “You don’t want it to come down to that, but he stepped up.”
*Olsen was honored prior to the match, inducted as a player in the team’s Hall of Tradition. De Rosario was also honored for his 100th regular season goal, scored in United’s previous home game against New York. The team also observed a moment of silence for executive Betty D’Anjolell, who recently passed away.