COMMERCE CITY, COLO. — At this stage of a lost season, D.C. United marks progress with small acts. Victories and goals remain elusive, but Sunday night at DSG Park, undermanned United reversed course by not digging itself into an early trench.
United (2-13-4) was blanked for the sixth time in eight matches (12th time overall) and remained winless on the road with one goal scored. Nonetheless, this display was not as troubling as so many others this year.
United’s lineup featured just four players who started the season opener four months ago: Defender Daniel Woolard, midfielders Perry Kitchen and John Thorrington and forward Chris Pontius.
Notable absences included goalie Bill Hamid (U.S. national team duty), defender Dejan Jakovic (adductor injury), midfielder Nick DeLeon (ankle sprain) and forward Dwayne De Rosario (hip flexor strain).
Probable starters Chris Korb and Alain Rochat were in uniform but on the bench. Korb was nursing a minor hamstring ailment and Rochat had missed three practices in order to spend time with his wife, who gave birth to their fourth child.
Rookie defender Taylor Kemp, a Colorado native, made his second start and veteran forward Carlos Ruiz received his fourth assignment.
Willis, a former University of Denver standout starting in place of Hamid, made a superb reflex save on Deshorn Brown’s knee-propelled shot from close range in the 12th minute. Moments later, Brown snapped a loose ball wide after Willis interrupted a long ball into the box.
United reached the 30-minute mark without conceding a goal – no small feat for a club that has allowed 14 (of 29 overall) in that span.
The good fortune almost ended in the 34th, however, when German Mera headed rookie Dillon Powers’s free kick off the near post.
With a new partnership up front (Ruiz and Pontius) and no creativity in midfield, United was harmless until the 40th minute. Ethan White’s angled bid off Kemp’s cross floated over drawn-out goalkeeper Clint Irwin and was cleared off the goal line by retreating defender Drew Moor.
Rochat entered for winger Kyle Porter after intermission and partnered with Perry Kitchen in central midfield. The move nudged Pontius deeper in the attack.
The teams exchanged quality opportunities – and quality saves. Willis extended to his left to turn away Brown’s low drive and Irwin stuffed Ruiz on the end of a promising counterattack.
United began to bend. Woolard’s last-gasp stab thwarted a threat deep in the box and Atiba Harris’s header missed by a whisker.
Willis intervened again in the 75th minute, making a reflex save on Brown. He stopped Nick LaBrocca’s rasping drive in the 88th and watched a late shot streak wide.
The Rapids (7-7-6) are 9-1-3 against United in the past 13 meetings in Colorado.
United notes: Pontius was added to the U.S. national team’s alternate list for the CONCACAF Gold Cup, meaning he is among 12 players eligible for four call-ups after the tournament’s group stage. Porter was a late addition to Canada’s final roster but will also remain with United for the time being. [ellip]