DC United defeated the LA Galaxy 1-0 on a 93rd minute goal from Chris Pontius. In a freezing match that looked destined to finish 0-0, the Black and Red managed to capitalize on a depleted Galaxy squad to pick up three points.
The game-winning goal came during a moment of magic, when Nick Deleon flicked the ball over a helpless Robbie Rogers followed by a lofted cross into the box that found the head of a fearless Chris Pontius. It’s good to see Nick Deleon looking dangerous recently and for Pontius to grab a goal to improve his confidence. Remember that Pontius has only just gone the full 90 minutes for the second consecutive time since 2013.
The game wasn’t pretty, but that’s OK. This United squad is still missing Eddie Johnson, Fabian Espindola, Luis Silva, Colin Martin, Michael Seaton, Markus Halsti, and lost Steve Birnbaum to an ankle injury in the second minute. Given all of those injuries, the fact that United has started off the season winning two out of their first three games makes the loss to the Red Bulls a little easier to swallow. United is also now halfway through Fabian Espindola’s suspension, and picking up as many points as possible during that stretch is extremely important.
United’s two wins this season have both been 1-0 shut outs at home, within the comforting albeit drab confines of RFK stadium. Last season, United relied on their defensive record to see them through the season and finish first in the East. This season, they have mostly done the same. The single loss came against the Red Bulls in Harrison, where United has struggled recently.
It is difficult to win on the road in MLS due to the long travel distance, and getting results at home is usually a good sign. If United can keep up their defensive record at home, it should make the loss of multiple scoring threats (Silva, Espindola, and Johnson) easier to deal with. Once Silva and Espindola return, United will have much more bite to their attack in addition to their strong defense.
It will be interesting to see how United does as they take to the road for the second time this season, this time against expansion side Orlando City- United’s first game against one of the new clubs. Defender Steve Birnbaum will almost surely be out for this game after being stretchered off in the second minute with an ankle injury. Head Coach Ben Olsen described his injury as a “sprain,” and an MRI was conducted to today, with the results unavailable at this moment. In better news, Olsen mentioned in his post game press conference that Luis Silva is available for selection, and should make the 18-man squad on Friday.
Kofi Opare came in for Birnbaum in the second minute, making his first MLS appearance for United. In Birnbaum’s absence, Opare filled in brilliantly. Opare partnered well with United captain Bobby Boswell, and went on to make the MLS team of the week. That performance will earn him a start against Orlando City, where he will face a tough test coming up against Kaka.
During Olsen’s tenure, United has been slow out of the gate and struggled in the first month of the season. Champions league loss aside, that does not appear to be the case this year. At the end of March, United has two wins, one loss, and are in second place in the Eastern Conference having only played three games (most of the league has played four). The Eastern conference is widely projected to be a battle this year, and DC has starting the season out in a commanding position without chasing the pack.
Some of the favorites to top the East this year (CLB, NE, and TFC) have had some early season difficulties, and the bottom of the conference does not look like they are going to take off any time soon. Sure, it’s a long season, but picking up points while conference challengers are struggling can only help down the stretch- especially as we begin to return players from injury.
Overall, it has been a pretty solid start to the season, points wise. However, United still has plenty to work on. The offense has been pretty ineffective, only managing to score twice in three games. United can’t keep scoring at that rate and rely on keeping clean sheets in every game, it just won’t happen. This could change as Luis Silva, who has yet to see the field this year in any capacity, returns. Additionally, Fabian Espindola will return from his suspension in 3 games. Silva and Espindola were United’s highest goal scorers last year. For now, we’ll grind out results the only way we know how: good defense and opportunistic scoring.