On a brisk Saturday evening in Massachusetts, DC United displayed what seemed to be a new found confidence moving forward. After a disappointing start to their MLS campaign (1-10-2, 5 points) which is good for last place in the Eastern Conference, Ben Olsen made another gutsy move to leave Brandon McDonald and Dwayne De Rosario out of the starting XI. As the first team regulars continue to disappoint both with comments concerning positioningg or just poor play, Olsen is successfully instilling a fighter mentality into his men – whomever that may be. DC United traveled to Gillette Stadium to take on a resurgent New England Revolution side who looked to demolish DC just as they had previously done to a very bright LA Galaxy side in the weeks prior. For the Black & Red, with De Rosario out of the lineup, John Thorrington retained captaincy for his brilliant play earlier in the season before he suffered a heartbreaking injury – DC are surely glad to have him back.
The first half started off quite slowly with both the DC and New England seeming to be a bit tentative to make the first mistake; however as the first half progressed both sides opened up in the attack. For DC, Carlos Ruiz once again was given the nod over Lionard Pajoy and did exceptionally well in his hold up play. As the Guatemalan continues to start over Pajoy, DC seem to be gaining some sort of rhythm in the attacking third as the aging striker is able to retain possession well and although he does not always pick the "right" pass, he does look for his onrushing teammates. Ruiz was once again a best to Chris Tierney, Andrew Farrell, Stephen McCarthy and Jose Goncalves as he continuously backed into his defenders allowing room for Nick DeLeon and Kyle Porter to operate and unleash a few shots on Bobby Shuttleworth.
DC United continued their first half on another positive note from the tough play of Perry Kitchen. The youngster did a fairly solid job at containing Juan Toja and Lee Nguyen and despite their edge in possession and ball control, Kitchen was always active in keeping those two near him at all times to prevent any real dangers to DC United's defense. As the Black & Red continue to play with nothing to lose, there seems a bit more free-flowing nature in their style as Daniel Woolard drove forward and combined with Porter. This connection was crucial to United's presence in the Revolution's final third because Porter was able to use his individual speed, and insightful precision passing with Carlos Ruiz to break down the Rev's on the left flank. Upon receiving his first cap for Canada earlier in the season, in recent weeks Porter without question has become one of DC United's brightest spots in the lineup as he continues to use his abilities (especially his pace) to his advantage over opponents. Unfortunately for the Canadian, DC United have only netted six goals in their MLS league campaign but the goals will come if he continues to play the way he is.
Even Rev's manager Jay Heaps understood that DC would come onto their turf with really, nothing to lose. Heaps' statements do nothing to discredit DC's efforts this season but he indicates that Ben Olsen's squad have struggled with a few unlucky bounces and calls – but the past is the past and United must look full steam ahead. That being said, DC had it's first true test on New England's goalkeeper int he 28th minute as Chris Pontius created a bit of space for himself and tried to power a shot past Shuttleworth near post; however, he pushed the shot wide for a corner. After tallying a career high 12 goals last season, Pontius seems far from his last season's form but that doesn't mean he's far from rediscovering it.
As the first half came to a close, New England's attack began to take shape with Toja's shot terrifically saved by Hamid in the 31st minute off of a stellar hold up play from Toja. On many occasions late in the first, DC were pinned in their own half as the Rev's attacked with venom as DC struggled to get back on defense quick enough. With the match opening up, the Rev's were finding spaces behind Porter who continued to get lost too far forward.
The New England Revolution made a few chances early on in the second half in hopes of changing the complexion of the match bringing on Kelyn Rowe for Sene, and Chad Barrett for Toja. With the match still knotted at 0-0, Heaps looked to solidify their attacking presence against the struggling DC defense; however, DC bent but did not break. As the youngster Fagundez began to take it to DC in the center of the park, Bill Hamid was called upon numerous times throughout the second half. As Fagundez pressed forward, the Rev's defense also made their way up the park and in the 66th minute, Tierney hit the post.
As Thorrington gained the captaincy on the night, he was also subbed off in the 70th minute for the former Revolution midfielder Sainey Nyassi who brought added pace into the match. In terms of DC's goalkeeping, there is no question as to why Bill Hamid has been called up to the United States Mens National Squad – he's single handedly kept his club side in numerous matches because of stellar performances. Hamid made save after save during the match – maybe the captaincy should be given to the prospective US Men's National Team starting goalkeeper in the future. With the playoff odds against them as we enter mid-June, Olsen will look to find a cohesive unit moving forward and to win over the crowds – the first way to do so it to score goals, an aspect that DC have surely not conquered this season, at all.
Olsen told MLS Soccer "I was proud of my group tonight. It's been a tough three months, I'm not going to lie […] For the guys to keep grinding and fighting together to get a result tonight, I was very happy with that and I was proud of them." The praise by Olsen comes to a good surprise as his side continue to struggle in the offensive end of matters; however defensively, DC United looked fairly sound especially through the midfield. The Black & Red certainly added more numbers to their attack, but the final ball just was out of reach. Much like Hamid has done this season, he carried his side to the vital point towards the right direction.
My DC United Man of the Match: Bill Hamid
(image courtesy of USA Today Sports Images)