D.C. United 1, Columbus Crew 0
Two weeks later D.C. United can call it even with the Columbus Crew, and call its playoff push back on track.
With a 1-0 defeat over the visitors from Ohio that looked very much like a mirror image of their defeat by the same margin in Columbus two weeks ago, United (11-7-3) looked and felt like the MLS contender it became during the first part of the season.
“Huge game for us, especially starting off this month for us when we’ve got a lot of games,” said midfielder Chris Pontius, whose career-high 10th goal of the season accounted for all D.C. needed in the victory. “And we need to make up some ground in the Eastern Conference.”
With only five games in June and July – and three losses in the last four of them – D.C. had spent much of the past two months watching teams gain ground and overtake them. Their anxiousness to reclaim control in the first of six matches in August was epitomized by rookie midfielder Nick DeLeon, who did everything but get the assist for the game’s lone goal in the 49th minute.
“He made it happen,” Pontius said.
Rounding Crew defender Josh Williams on the right wing, DeLeon drove into the box and cut back. When Columbus midfielder Milovan Mirosevic tried to close, DeLeon stepped and spun over the ball to grab it back then sent it across the goal mouth. D.C. forward Long Tan’s backheel shot wasn’t clean, but it wasn’t saved by goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum either, and Pontius slammed home the loose ball to the joy of the 16,460 at RFK Stadium.
“That was just a bad touch,” DeLeon said of the spin move. “The defender was coming so I improvised. It worked out for the best. We got the goal, got the win, so I’m happy about that.”
Williams wasn’t nearly as pleased with himself.
“I feel like we were kicking the ball away, kicking the ball away, and it just kept falling in front of them,” Williams said. “At the end of the day, you want to get that ball out. That’s your job. It’s frustrating to lose like that.”
It was a measure of redemption for DeLeon, who’d racked up three goals and three assists in the first half of the season before having his momentum curbed by a hamstring injury.
“I felt like mentally I got into a little slump so recently, I’ve just been really focusing on amping my game up to that next level because you can’t be satisfied with where you’re at,” DeLeon said. “These couple weeks in practice, I’ve just been working hard, pushing it, trying to get to that next level, and I guess it kind of showed in the game. I’m trying to get back there.”
Increasing its home winning streak to seven games, D.C. United controlled much the first half but came away empty, but the Crew also had chances. Carlos Mendes made a goalmouth clearance in the fourth minute for Columbus, and D.C. goalkeeper Bill Hamid stopped Dilly Duka immediately afterward. Dwayne De Rosario fed Tan for a close range shot in the 12th minute, but Gruenebaum pinned the ball to the turf with his left leg and pounced on the save.
The home team’s pressure led to yellow cards for the Duka, Justin Meram and Chris Birchall after tactical and potentially dangerous fouls. But Branko Boskovic and his teammates squandered D.C. United’s free kicks, failing to force a single save.
Meram nearly stole the visitors into the lead in the 39th minute, picking off Boskovic’s weak pass and getting into the box, but Hamid got his hands down in time to prevent Meram’s shot from sneaking through his legs. Perry Kitchen then hit the near post on an open chance after Gruenebaum was late off his line trying to cut off a looping pass from De Rosario.
In the humid summer heat, United increasing sat back after scoring while Columbus pushed the game, but the Crew only managed a single shot on goal in the second half.
“It was very tough down that stretch,” United coach Ben Olsen said. “They just kept coming and coming and throwing a lot of numbers forward. When they do that, they are going to get looks and crosses and two-v-ones, and I thought we held up fairly well. We were committed. I would have liked to dictate the game a little bit more down the stretch. I think we got a little too tired.”
D.C.’s toughest loss could be ahead, with defender Daniel Woolard exiting the game with head injury in the 62nd minute following a collision. He was set to be evaluated for a possible concussion.