D.C. United locked up a playoff berth four days ago. So perhaps it made sense that, against the New England Revolution on Saturday night, the United often looked like it had nothing left to play for.
Playing defensively for most of the game, United players botched scoring opportunities, fumbled away breakaways and shot right at New England goalie Matt Reis.
United midfielder Christian Gomez, right, celebrates with teammate Alecko Eskandarian after his first half goal.
(Evan Vucci - AP)
United also pulled out a 1-0 win.
Despite an uninspired offense that managed just three shots on goal, United (10-10-9) beat the Revolution at RFK Stadium to move to .500 for the first time in two months.
"It wasn't pretty, that's for sure," United Coach Peter Nowak said. "We are supposed to be better with the ball. It looked very physical, very sloppy. There were plenty of bad plays."
The final score was about the only thing aesthetically pleasing to United fans last night. Even the team's most impressive moment came off awkwardly.
Christian Gomez put United ahead in the 32nd minute with a goal that surprised even him. When Ben Olsen fed Gomez with a cross, he swung at the ball with his right foot and barely made contact. Still, the shot hit Reis's hand and slid into the net.
After Gomez's goal, his second this season, he greeted Olsen with a wink. The two then jumped into each other's arms, partners in luck.
"I was surprised that the ball actually went through," Gomez said through a translator. "I just ended up on the second post all by myself. I didn't do much. Luckily it just went in."
It marked United's only shot on goal of the first half, and its only high point, too. Most of the team's other scoring chances last night ended comically.
Early in the first half, Alecko Eskandarian fired a shot from 20 yards that ricocheted off Olsen's head. Olsen slipped and fell before he could fire an open shot five minutes later.
Perhaps most confounding of all, Olsen fired a wide-open eight-yard shot right into Reis's chest midway through the second half. Olsen crumbled to his knees and shook his head in disbelief.
"We had a lot of chances to really take this game over," Olsen said. "It was just a gutsy, gutsy win. I'm happy with the result, but nothing else. I think we could have played a lot better.
"Nobody played well," New England Coach Steve Nicol said. "It was one of those games that was decided by one shot, one tackle. We couldn't come through with the big goal."
United goalie Nick Rimando kept his team in the game, as he's done often during the last few weeks, making two saves in the first 10 minutes. His second save was a diving catch on a shot by Clint Dempsey.
He's grown used to that warmth recently. Rimando, who struggled at times earlier this year, won over fans by allowing just two goals over the last four games. On Saturday, he came across as confident, even demanding. When New England threatened early in the second half, Rimando pointed and directed his defenders.
When the final whistle sounded, United players ran and hugged Rimando, thanking him for preserving an unlikely win.
By reaching .500, United achieved a feel-good benchmark that could boost the team's confidence going into the playoffs. Perhaps even more impressive, United is now 8-2-4 at home going into the regular season finale at RFK against the MetroStars on Oct. 17.
"We're winning, and that's what counts," Olsen said. "We're not playing the way we want to, but it's hard to complain when we keep winning. It just shows that if we can start playing well, things could really come together."