D.C. United vs. Colorado: United backup goalie Joe Willis makes big plays in 0-0 draw

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.

It held firm through much of 90 minutes, withstood a late scare and received a sensational performance by backup goalkeeper Joe Willis for a 0-0 draw with the Colorado Rapids.

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]

Off from league play until July 20, United will host Mexican club Chivas Guadalajara in a friendly Friday at RFK Stadium.

CREW 1, TIMBERS 0: Bernardo Anor’s early goal helped host Columbus defeat Portland to end the Timbers’ 15-game unbeaten streak.

Portland (7-2-9) had gone 7-0-8 since March 9, while the Crew (6-8-5) ended a three-game losing streak.

Anor scored in the fourth minute off a restart from Federico Higuain for the second straight match with a snap header from 6 yards to the inside of the left post.

But Higuain failed to increase the lead seven minutes later as he missed his second penalty kick in six attempts this season by shooting the ball left of the net.

Aaron Schoenfeld drew the penalty and a red card to Pa-Modou Kah in the 11th when the defender stuck his right foot into Schoenfeld’s face.

●SPORTING KC 2, FIRE 1: Benny Feilhaber and Graham Zusi scored in the first eight minutes, and Sporting Kansas City snapped visiting Chicago’s three-match winning streak.

The victory was only Kansas City’s second in the last seven matches, giving the franchise 30 points.

Kansas City’s two goals were scored 2 minutes 14 seconds apart.

Feilhaber scored his first of the season in the sixth minute, hammering a right-footed shot from 16 yards when a throw-in by defender Matt Besler deflected off two players and ended up at his feet.

Chicago goalkeeper Paulo Tornaghi couldn’t stop that shot and seemed surprised by midfielder Zusi’s nonchalant 20-yard shot soon after. It curled over Tornaghi and into the upper right-hand corner.

Mike Magee cut the margin to 2-1 in the 38th minute.

●IMPACT 1, CHIVAS USA 1: Patrice Bernier scored from the penalty spot in the 80th minute, and Montreal tied visiting Chivas USA.

Bernier’s goal came after Mario De Luna took down Sanna Nyassi on the left edge of the penalty area.

Eric Avila scored for Chivas (3-10-4), the last-place team in the Western Conference. Chivas has gone 13 games without a win, dating back to a 2-1 victory over Vancouver on March 30.

Goalkeeper Dan Kennedy, who stopped Marco Di Vaio and Felipe Martins on early point-blank chances, has seen his team get stronger under new Coach Jose Luis Real.

“We knew this would be a tough game, and we came prepared and we put in a smart performance,” Kennedy said.