Lionard Pajoy scores lone goal at RFK
It's way too early to render judgment on D.C. United's prospects in 2013. It's still technically winter, after all, even though it has played two matches, and both have come without suspended playmaker Dwayne De Rosario.
With that in mind, United was satisfied to play like it did down the stretch last season in its first home match of the new year. Saturday's 1-0 victory over Real Salt Lake in front of 17,072 at RFK Stadium wasn't a thing of beauty, but it extended United's record unbeaten streak at home to 19 games since March 2012 just the same.
"I think when we were still in Houston [last week], it didn't really feel like the season starting," United defender Dejan Jakovic said. "There's something about playing at home in front of your fans that gets you pumped up. It kind of hit us. Everyone was excited to get out and play this game."
It still took the better part of an hour to get on the scoreboard. John Thorrington's sneaky chip in the 60th minute forced a diving save from Salt Lake goalkeeper Nick Rimando, and it spilled directly into the path of a diving header by Lionard Pajoy, who was unknowingly kept onside by Sebastian Velasquez.
"When I scored, I just went and celebrated," Pajoy said. "It wasn't even a thought in my mind that I could've been offside. As a forward, those are the situations that you want to take advantage of."
It got the oft-maligned Colombian, who had three goals in 12 games last year, off the hook for fumbling chances earlier in the game in typical fashion.
Midfielder Chris Pontius called him a "hard worker."
"I think everyone on this team likes playing with him," Pontius said. "I think everyone tends to say, 'Oh, he's not the greatest finisher.' But the work he puts in off the ball is phenomenal for us, and that's what we need from a forward."
With Carlos Ruiz still working his way back into game shape and 20-year-old Rafael still untested, Pajoy is also essentially unchallenged for his starting job.
"He scored a goal, the one that won the game," United coach Ben Olsen said. "So you're not going to get any knocks on Pajoy right now from me."
Olsen also reserved judgment on Real Salt Lake defender Abdoulie Mansally's head butt to the chest of Perry Kitchen just after the goal as the game intensified. The play earned Mansally a yellow card, but more punishment could be in store from MLS.
Revamped Real Salt Lake (1-1-0, three points), which played without four regular starters, dropped to 0-5-3 all time in visits to the District.
While De Rosario is set to return next week, United (1-1-0, three points) could be without Thorrington after just two starts for his new club. The veteran midfielder's influence in the center was cut short by a left knee injury suffered later in the half. Olsen said he didn't think it was "anything season-ending" and meant that as a silver lining. Thorrington is scheduled for an MRI on Monday.
"It's heartbreaking for me," Thorrington said. "I was really enjoying myself out there."